Focus: A House for Helium inside Earth

December 21, 2018• Physics 11, 133

Computations predict the existence of a compound that might retailer the primordial helium that’s recognized to be current someplace contained in the Earth.

Figure captionexpand figure

Sizzling helium thriller. Historic helium can emerge from the bottom together with lava (right here from Kilauea Crater in Hawaii). Computational research now present that the helium supply may very well be the compound FeO2He in rocks near the Earth’s core.

Figure caption

Sizzling helium thriller. Historic helium can emerge from the bottom together with lava (right here from Kilauea Crater in Hawaii). Computational research now present that the helium supply may very well be the compound FeO2He in rocks near the Earth’s core.×

Primordial helium—a remnant of the early Photo voltaic System—emanates from the bottom at websites of lava plumes like these present in Hawaii, Iceland, and the Galapagos. However the supply of this helium deep contained in the Earth stays unknown. Now researchers predict the existence of a helium-bearing compound, FeO2He, that might serve to retailer this enigmatic component. Their calculations point out that the compound is secure at temperatures and pressures according to these discovered on the backside of the Earth’s mantle—the mostly-solid layer between the crust and the molten outer core. If verified, the outcomes would assist the science behind utilizing helium to hint the age and historical past of cosmological our bodies, since different comparable planets ought to comprise the identical materials.

After hydrogen, helium is probably the most plentiful component within the Universe, and on Earth, there are two locations to seek out it. Helium is constantly produced via radioactive decays within the crust, and additionally it is present in lava and gasoline plumes originating from the mantle [1]. This mantle helium bears signatures displaying that it was current when the Earth shaped. Researchers assume that it should exist someplace within the Earth in strong type; in any other case it will have escaped way back, because of helium’s low density. Nevertheless, helium-bearing rocks are uncommon—the inert component has restricted capabilities to type compounds with different parts. And to this point, such compounds are absent from measurements and predictions of rocks, leaving the speculation unconfirmed.

Yanming Ma of Jilin College in China and his colleagues got down to resolve this conundrum by computationally looking for minerals containing iron and magnesium which may react with helium. Iron and magnesium are good beginning factors for such an investigation, as the weather are each plentiful contained in the Earth, says workforce member Changfeng Chen of the College of Nevada, Las Vegas.

The workforce used a crystal construction search algorithm known as CALYPSO—developed by Ma’s group—that finds compound candidates by calculating their energies [2]. When the presence of helium in a candidate compound lowers the vitality in contrast with the helium-free model, the helium-containing compound is taken into account “favorable,” and the algorithm spits out a proposed crystal. The algorithm’s search turned up empty-handed for magnesium-based compounds. However the workforce discovered one potential iron-based compound that match their standards— FeO2He.

The workforce’s calculations present that FeO2He types a secure construction at temperatures between 3000 and 5000 Okay and at pressures starting from 135 to 300 gigapascals (GPa), situations that correspond to these discovered on the core-mantle boundary. The workforce additionally carried out simulations of FeO2He at a temperature of 3000 Okay and a strain of 135 GPa to seek out the fabric’s acoustic properties. They discovered that sound waves transfer via the compound at speeds equal to these obtained in seismic-wave measurements of the core-mantle boundary, indicating that the fabric’s properties are according to observations of this area.

Latest synthesis experiments additionally level to FeO2He being a robust contender for housing primordial helium. Each FeO2 and the hydrogen-containing compounds FeO2Hx have been shaped in laboratory settings on the temperatures and pressures discovered within the decrease areas of the mantle [3, 4]. Chen says that the profitable creation of these supplies signifies that researchers might—comparatively rapidly and simply—affirm within the lab that FeO2He is secure in deep Earth situations.

Helium-bearing compounds have, till very just lately, been thought of unlikely to exist beneath the bodily situations on or contained in the Earth, Chen says, however in his opinion, his workforce’s new predictions change that view. Chen means that primordial helium reacted with FeO2 again when the Earth was new, forming a strong materials. The compound is sufficiently heavy that it will solely rise to the floor via so-called mantle plumes, that are columns of sizzling, strong rock that transfer as much as the crust. When FeO2He nears the floor and experiences a drop in temperature and strain, it ought to destabilize and launch helium gasoline.

If this result’s appropriate, it might resolve the issue of the place and the way primordial helium is saved, says Matt Jackson, a geochemist on the College of California, Santa Barbara. Jackson research the chemical compositions of lava plumes and has discovered signatures of primordial helium. “That is an thrilling outcome,” he says, however he cautions that the predictions must be examined with laboratory experiments. Ronald Cohen, a geophysicist on the Carnegie Establishment for Science in Washington, DC, agrees. He and others thought that primordial helium was most certainly saved as impurities in mantle minerals, so the prediction of a helium-containing compound is a shock, he says.

This analysis is revealed in Bodily Evaluate Letters.

–Katherine Wright

Katherine Wright is a Senior Editor of Physics.


M. G. Jackson, J. G. Konter, and T. W. Becker, “Primordial helium entrained by the most popular mantle plumes,” Nature 542, 340 (2017). Hu, D. Kim, W. Yang, L. Yang, Y. Meng, L. Zhang, and H. Mao, “FeO2 and FeOOH beneath deep lower-mantle situations and Earth’s oxygen–hydrogen cycles,” Nature 534, 241 (2016).J. Liu et al., “Hydrogen-bearing iron peroxide and the origin of ultralow-velocity zones,” Nature 551, 494 (2017).

Uncommon Helium-Bearing Compound FeO2He Stabilized at Deep-Earth Situations

Jurong Zhang, Jian Lv, Hefei Li, Xiaolei Feng, Cheng Lu, Simon A. T. Redfern, Hanyu Liu, Changfeng Chen, and Yanming Ma

Phys. Rev. Lett. 121, 255703 (2018)

Revealed December 21, 2018

Topic Areas

GeophysicsMaterials Science

Associated Articles

Synopsis: Flexible Electronics, Heal ThyselfViewpoint: Crystalline Metals Effortlessly Fit the MoldViewpoint: Pushing Towards Room-Temperature Superconductivity Extra Articles

Supply hyperlink

Show More

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *