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Isotopes of helium

Although there are eight known isotopes of helium (He) (standard atomic mass: 4.002602(2) u), only helium-3 (3He) and helium-4 (4He) are stable. In the Earth's atmosphere, there is one 3He atom for every million 4He atoms.[1] However, helium is unusual in that its isotopic abundance varies greatly depending on its origin. In the interstellar medium, the proportion of 3He is around a hundred times higher.[2] Rocks from the Earth's crust have isotope ratios varying by as much as a factor of ten; this is used in geology to investigate the origin of rocks and the composition of the Earth's mantle.[3]

The most common isotope, 4He, is produced on Earth by alpha decay of heavier radioactive elements; the alpha particles that emerge are fully ionized 4He nuclei. 4He is an unusually stable nucleus because its nucleons are arranged into complete shells. It was also formed in enormous quantities during Big Bang nucleosynthesis. The different formation processes of the two stable isotopes of helium produce the differing isotope abundances.

Equal mixtures of liquid 3He and 4He below 0.8 K will separate into two immiscible phases due to their dissimilarity (they follow different quantum statistics: 4He atoms are bosons while 3He atoms are fermions).[4] Dilution refrigerators take advantage of the immiscibility of these two isotopes to achieve temperatures of a few millikelvins. There is only a trace amount of 3He on Earth, primarily present since the formation of the Earth, although some falls to Earth trapped in cosmic dust.[3] Trace amounts are also produced by the beta decay of tritium.[5] In stars, however, 3He is more abundant, a product of nuclear fusion. Extraplanetary material, such as lunar and asteroid regolith, have trace amounts of 3He from being bombarded by solar winds.

Exotic helium isotopes

A subset of exotic light nuclei, the exotic helium isotopes have larger atomic masses than helium's natural isotopes. Although all exotic helium isotopes decay with a half-life of less than one second, researchers have eagerly created exotic light isotopes through particle accelerator collisions to create unusual atomic nuclei for elements such as helium, lithium, and nitrogen. The bizarre nuclear structures of such isotopes may offer insight into the isolated properties of neutrons.

The shortest-lived isotope is helium-5 with a half-life of 7.6×10−22 second. Helium-6 decays by emitting a beta particle and has a half life of 0.8 second. Helium-7 also emits a beta particle as well as a gamma ray. The most widely-studied exotic helium isotope is helium-8. This isotope, as well as helium-6, are thought to consist of a normal helium-4 nucleus surrounded by a neutron "halo" (two for 6He and four for 8He). Halo nuclei have become an area of intense research. Isotopes up to helium-10, with two protons and eight neutrons, have been confirmed. Helium-7 and helium-8 are hyperfragments that are created in certain nuclear reactions.[6]
Helium-2 (diproton)
For more details on this topic, see Diproton.

Helium-2 is a hypothetical isotope of helium which according to theoretical calculations would have existed if the strong force had been 2% greater. This atom would have two protons without any neutrons.

Z(p) N(n) isotopic mass (u) half-life nuclear
(mole fraction)
range of natural
(mole fraction)
3He 2 1 3.0160293191(26) Stable 1/2+ 0.00000134(3) 4.6×10-10-0.000041
4He 2 2 4.00260325415(6) Stable 0+ 0.99999866(3) 0.999959-1
5He 2 3 5.01222(5) 700(30)E-24 s [0.60(2) MeV] 3/2-
Highly unstable, decays to 4He.
6He 2 4 6.0188891(8) 806.7(15) ms 0+
Produced from 7He or 11Li, decomposes to 6Li through beta decay (beta-minus).
7He 2 5 7.028021(18) 2.9(5)E-21 s [159(28) keV] (3/2)-
Highly unstable, decays to 6He.
8He 2 6 8.033922(7) 119.0(15) ms 0+
Produced from 9He, decomposes to 7Li through beta decay then emits a delayed neutron.
9He 2 7 9.04395(3) 7(4)E-21 s [100(60) keV] 1/2(-#)
Highly unstable, decays to 8He.
10He 2 8 10.05240(8) 2.7(18)E-21 s [0.17(11) MeV] 0+
Highly unstable, decays to 9He.


* The isotopic composition refers to that in air.
* The precision of the isotope abundances and atomic mass is limited through variations. The given ranges should be applicable to any normal terrestrial material.
* Geologically exceptional samples are known in which the isotopic composition lies outside the reported range. The uncertainty in the atomic mass may exceed the stated value for such specimens.
* Values marked # are not purely derived from experimental data, but at least partly from systematic trends. Spins with weak assignment arguments are enclosed in parentheses.
* Uncertainties are given in concise form in parentheses after the corresponding last digits. Uncertainty values denote one standard deviation, except isotopic composition and standard atomic mass from IUPAC which use expanded uncertainties.

See also

Isotopes of lithium


* Isotope masses from Ame2003 Atomic Mass Evaluation by G. Audi, A.H. Wapstra, C. Thibault, J. Blachot and O. Bersillon in Nuclear Physics A729 (2003).
* Isotopic compositions and standard atomic masses from Atomic weights of the elements. Review 2000 (IUPAC Technical Report). Pure Appl. Chem. Vol. 75, No. 6, pp. 683-800, (2003) and Atomic Weights Revised (2005).
* Half-life, spin, and isomer data selected from these sources. Editing notes on this article's talk page.
o Audi, Bersillon, Blachot, Wapstra. The Nubase2003 evaluation of nuclear and decay properties, Nuc. Phys. A 729, pp. 3-128 (2003).
o National Nuclear Data Center, Brookhaven National Laboratory. Information extracted from the NuDat 2.1 database (retrieved Sept. 2005).
o David R. Lide (ed.), Norman E. Holden in CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, 85th Edition, online version. CRC Press. Boca Raton, Florida (2005). Section 11, Table of the Isotopes.

1. ^ Emsley, John. Nature's Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide to the Elements. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. Page 178. ISBN 0-19-850340-7
2. ^ [1], ingentaconnect.com, Retrieved 5 January 2007
3. ^ a b Helium Fundamentals
4. ^ The Encyclopedia of the Chemical Elements, page 264
5. ^ Periodic Table of Elements: Li - Lithium (EnvironmentalChemistry.com)
6. ^ The Encyclopedia of the Chemical Elements, page 260

External links

* General Tables — abstracts for helium and other exotic light nuclei

Periodic table
H   He
Li Be   B C N O F Ne
Na Mg   Al Si P S Cl Ar
K Ca Sc   Ti V Cr Mn Fe Co Ni Cu Zn Ga Ge As Se Br Kr
Rb Sr Y   Zr Nb Mo Tc Ru Rh Pd Ag Cd In Sn Sb Te I Xe
Cs Ba La Ce Pr Nd Pm Sm Eu Gd Tb Dy Ho Er Tm Yb Lu Hf Ta W Re Os Ir Pt Au Hg Tl Pb Bi Po At Rn
Fr Ra Ac Th Pa U Np Pu Am Cm Bk Cf Es Fm Md No Lr Rf Db Sg Bh Hs Mt Ds Rg Cn Uut Uuq Uup Uuh Uus Uuo
Alkali metals Alkaline earth metals Lanthanoids Actinoids Transition metals Other metals Metalloids Other nonmetals Halogens Noble gases

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