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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Critical Shortage of...(wait for it)...helium!

The deflated Kermit the Frog balloon at
The Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade:
A helium harbinger of deflated things to come???
According to an "exclusive" story published earlier this summer in GasWorld magazine - we are at critical shortage levels globally of helium gas.

You probably don't spend your days thinking about the geo-political impact of this "shocking" news nor helium in general - so I'm here to help in that regard.

As a refresher to your 10th grade chemistry class, helium is an inert gas that doesn't react with other chemical elements, it comes from the refinery process of natural gas and is represented by the symbol "He" on the periodic table of elements.

This "critical" gas touches virtually every aspect of our lives and its current short supply may mark the end of the buoyant world as we know it! [Editor's Note: that's a complete fallacy intended to inflate helium hysteria.]

In fact, of all the gases we need to live such as oxygen and hydrogen - helium is like the bastard second cousin who can't hold his liquor at family gatherings.

However, helium does have its uses.
  • One of the most well know ways that helium is used is in the inflation of massive floating characters such as Kermit the Frog (see photo insert) SpongeBob Squarepants, Snoopy, Shrek and dozens of others for the annual Macy's Day Thanksgiving Parade. However, the annual event may lose a bit of its luster if misshapen, partially filled balloon creatures are grounded and dragged through the grimy streets of New York due to the helium shortage.
  • A lesser known use of helium that people don't often think of  is that it's used in neon signs. Helium burns a bright orange-red color when placed inside a gas tube and sparked. As a result of the reduced helium supply, orange colored neon signs for Sunkist soda, Syracuse University and  Florida Orange Farmers' Cooperative are at greatest risk for going dark.
  • Helium is also used in both rubber and Mylar balloons for various parties - sending shock waves through the wedding planning and clownology industries.
  • Tangentially, some performance artists and comedians use helium-filled balloons as part of their respective acts to temporarily alter their voices into a "hilarious" sounding high-pitched quality like the munchkins from the Wizard of Oz. There are early reports that prop comics such as CarrotTop and Gallagher are taking the news the hardest.
  • Helium is also still used in airships such as the Goodyear and MetLife blimps - the shortage is likely to significantly reduce the number of aerial video shots at NFL stadiums during games, which is making the video technical directors of those programs break into cold sweats. They may be forced to rely on filler video of John Madden giving inane analysis which is frighting for all football fans.
  • This gas is also used in helium-neon lasers such as red lasers pointers, which means students at colleges across the country will have to find new ways to entertain themselves during boring anthropology lectures, rather than pointing sophomoric red dots on the various anatomy of their curmudgeonly pipe-smoking professors.
This is not to make light of the diminished plight of helium - helium does have some serious uses. It cools the super magnetic coils on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines allowing for crisper images. Additionally, it's used to help mix hydrogen and oxygen for rocket fuel in NASA's space shuttle programs - despite the fact that NASA has nixed further shuttle launches, so that last application is kind of moot.

Needless to say, we should all begin robust rationing programs of our respective helium usage - conservation is the key! If we all keep our heads and cooperate, we'll get through this thing - together!

Question: What's your favorite use of helium? How are you planning to prepare to survive this helium shortage?

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