(Above is an astronaut looking for Helium 3)
On earth, we would say that gold or platinum is the most rare and valuable substance on our planet. We think that there is no other substance out there that can be more priceless? Well, just recently a discovery was made that puts platinum and gold in second and third place in order to make room for a material called Helium 3. Helium 3 is not your everyday helium gas that we fill up balloons with. In fact, Helium 3 is a solid, and most importantly it is a substance that can change the way we use and develop nuclear power. We have known about Helium 3 in lunar rocks for roughly 50 years now, but in recent studies with testing Helium 3 in nuclear fusion, the possibilities of a new main source of energy has been found.
(above is a picture of Helium 3 during reaction)
There are many people to give credit too in the discovery of helium 3, but most of the credit in my opinion should go to the astronauts who went on the moonmissions and collected the samples, the researchers at the University of Wisconsin, and N.A.S.A. An astronaut, Harrison Schmitt, wrote about his experience actually collecting the samples of rocks, he states, “A sample of soil from the rim of Camelot crater slid from my scoop into a Teflon bag to begin its trip to Earth with the crew of Apollo 17. Little did I know at the time, on December 13, 1972, that sample 75501, along with samples from Apollo 11 and other missions, would provide the best reason to return to the moon in the 21st century.” The discovery can now lead to yet another race to the moon, except this time the race is to see who will be the first to mine the helium 3 and bring it back to earth. Through analysis, they have determines that there is about 1,000,000 tons of helium 3 under the crust of the moon. This has been determined to be true from the Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, 17 and U.S.S.R. Luna 16, and 20 samples.
Here is a overview video behind helium 3:
The difference between Fission and Fusion, How does it work?
(above shows the main difference between fission and fusion when they react)
Up till today, nuclear reactors have used nuclear fission to produce energy. The way nuclear fission harvests energy is by splitting one atom into two atoms. They do this by splitting atoms of uranium with high-energy neutrons. This produces very large amounts of energy in the form of heat, which heats water to form steam, and then spins turbines to generate electricity. The downside to fission is that it gives off dangerous amounts of radiation and radioactive waste in the form of nuclear rods, which have to be stored underground in desolate areas about forever.
In nuclear fusion however, the way it works is the exact same way except backwards. It produces energy when two atoms come together and under high temperature and pressure, they fuse together to become one, and the products are huge amounts of energy, neutrons, and helium gas. The best part about helium 3 fusion is that you have no radiation or radioactive waste that you have to worry about. So you’re left with abundant amounts of energy and no worries.
Now to explain all the specifics and science behind how it works below I decided to post a video to help best in understanding fission and fusion:
Impact on World/Humanity:
The significance of Helium 3 is crucially important as a means of an energy resource for the entire globe. It would not only provide as a way for new energy to replace resources which may be depleting, but also will give little to no toxic waste or radioactive by-product. This would deplete the need to use oil or any other types of energy that give off harmful waste products. Big cities and factories would no longer have air that is bad quality. It would affect every single aspect of our lives, you would be able to fill up your car by change, and even food would be cheaper because transportation of all goods would be cheaper. There is about ten times more energy that is available through helium 3 than in all the other sources of energy put together. This opportunity to have the most powerful and abundant energy resource in existence is something that shouldn’t be looked over.
(above is a visualization of what mining on the moon could look like)
The article talks about how the discovery of Helium 3 in fusion reactions is now making a race to the moon after seeing the capabilities of helium 3. It also talks about the N.A.S.A. moon base that they are planning on building and how it can open up the possibilities to mine helium 3. The reason that they are wanted to get it from the moon is because it is extremely rare on earth due to our atmosphere which blocks the solar rays that make helium 3. The moon on the other hand, doesn’t have an atmosphere, so after about 4 billion years of the sun hitting the moon, it is verified that there is a massive abundance of helium 3 on the moon. Whoever is the first to conquer the moon by putting the first base up there, will be the first to reek the benefits to such a powerful energy resource.
For anyone who is interested, I actually found a game about the Helium 3 race and it’s actually pretty cool! Check it out on the link below:
• Freudenrich, C. (n.d.). How Nuclear Fusion Reactors Work. HowStuffWorks. Retrieved May 1, 2011, from science.howstuffworks.com/fusion-reactor1.htm
• Lasker, J. (2006, December 15). Race to the Moon for Nuclear Fuel . Wired.com . Retrieved May 1, 2011, from http://www.wired.com/science/space/news/2006/12/72276
• Schmitt, H. (n.d.). Mining the Moon. Datapages - Search and Discovery. Retrieved May 1, 2011, from http://www.searchanddiscovery.