New Clues to Earth’s Formation From Ancient Helium Leaking From the Planet’s Core

Messier 8 (The Lagoon Nebula)

The center of Lagoon Nebula, captured by the Hubble Telescope. Nebulae are the primary sources of helium-3, and the amount of He-3 leaking from the Earth’s core suggests the planet formed inside the solar nebula, according to a new study in the AGU journal Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems. Credit: NASA, ESA

Vast stores of helium from the Big Bang lingering in the core suggest Earth formed inside a solar nebula.

Helium-3, a rare isotope of helium gas, is leaking out of Earth’s core, a new study reports. Because almost all helium-3 is from the Big Bang, the gas leak adds evidence that Earth formed inside a solar nebula, which has long been debated.

Helium-3 has been measured at Earth’s surface in relatively small quantities. But scientists did not know how much was leaking from the Earth’s core, as opposed to its middle layers, called the mantle.

The new study published today (March 28, 2022) in Geochemistry Geophysics Geosystems, pins down the core as a major source of helium-3 on the Earth. Some natural processes can generate helium-3, such as the radioactive decay of tritium, but helium-3 is made primarily in nebulae — massive, spinning clouds of gas and dust like the one that gave rise to our Solar System. Because helium is one of the earliest elements produced in the universe, most helium-3 can be traced back to the Big Bang.

As a planet grows, it accumulates material from its surroundings, so its composition reflects the environment in which it formed. To get high concentrations of helium-3 deep in the core, Earth would have had to form inside a thriving solar nebula, not on its fringes or during its waning phase.

The new research adds further clues to the mystery surrounding Earth’s formation, lending additional evidence to the theory that our planet formed inside the solar nebula.

The study was published in the AGU journal Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, which publishes research on the chemistry, physics, geology and biology of Earth and planetary processes.

About 2,000 grams of helium-3 leak out of the Earth every year, “about enough to fill a balloon the size of your desk,” said lead study author Peter Olson, a geophysicist at the University of New Mexico. “It’s a wonder of nature, and a clue for the history of the Earth, that there’s still a significant amount of this isotope in the interior of the Earth.”

The researchers modeled helium during two key stages of Earth’s history: early formation, when the planet was accumulating helium, and following the formation of the Moon, after which helium was lost. Evidence suggests an object one-third the size of the Earth hit the planet early in its history, around 4 billion years ago and that impact would have re-melted the Earth’s crust, allowing much of the helium to escape. The gas continues escaping to this day.

Using the modern helium-3 leak rate along with models of helium isotope behavior, the researchers estimated there are between 10 teragrams (1013 grams) to a petagram (1015 grams) of helium-3 in the core — a vast quantity that Olson said points to Earth’s formation inside the solar nebula, where high concentrations of the gas would have allowed it to build up deep in the planet.

However, future work looking for other nebula-created gases, such as hydrogen, leaking in similar rates and locations as helium-3 could be a “smoking gun” for the core as the source, Olson said. “There are many more mysteries than certainties.”

Reference: “Primordial Helium-3 Exchange Between Earth’s Core and Mantle” by Peter L. Olson and Zachary D. Sharp, 28 March 2022, Geochemistry Geophysics Geosystems.
DOI: 10.1029/2021GC009985

11 Comments on "New Clues to Earth’s Formation From Ancient Helium Leaking From the Planet’s Core"

  1. What we might expect.

  2. The Kola superdeep borehole had “boiling hydrogen” leaking out of it that scientists couldn’t explain. This is the same reason helium is leaking out as well and there is only one explanation.
    Our planet began its life as a quark plasma mass which are what black holes are made of. This plasma follows the conservation of energy by first creating neutrons on the surface by combining the quarks with the dark matter of space which is made of extremely pressurized electron neutrinos. This gives the black hole its first light. The neutrons break down to the first hydrogen atoms the mass will possess. The constantly forming neutrons then fuse with the hydrogen to form the first helium using the beta minus decay reaction. This process continues creating heavier elements making the star darker until a crust forms and the light goes out. This is when the atmosphere forms.
    The hydrogen and helium is still being created under the surface where the crust is bordered with the still operative quark plasma core. This is the core that has made our planet live so long. I know it sounds out of this world but the paradigm shift that will finally explain everything that isn’t explained will not be recognizable at first. Gas and dust did not create this planet.

    • Where are your scientific papers and computer modeling that supports an idea (not even a theory) that the core of our planet isn’t mainly composed of iron, but a ball of subatomic plasma?

      • How do you think our planet is going to still contain all the energy it emits after 5 billion years? Do you think a solid core can produce the energy to make 2,400°F liquid rock spew from the surface when it is 4,000 miles away? Solid are potential energy and plasmas are kinetic energy. Whatever is driving the energy of this planet will not be a solid.

        • Ok, since you can’t answer the previous questions, how about a peer reviewed paper that substantiates any of this? Heat production and loss in the core has been studied for decades, in general it is settled science. There has been no recent discoveries that would upend it.

          • Mike Pollock | March 30, 2022 at 8:03 am |

            How’s a ball of iron going to heat a planet for 5 billion years? It’s solid, liquid, gas, plasma for a reason. Plasma releases energy and a solid has absorbed it all.
            Nobody ever listens to the scientists in the articles. They do not know how the helium is formed. They do not know why boiling hydrogen was leaking out of the Kola superdeep borehole. They do not know why the temperature was almost twice as hot as they thought it would be. Peer reviewed papers are something I read about all the time. All they ever state is that current theories cannot explain what they see. That is where I come in. I just explained what cannot be explained in the article. Of course, it will sound foreign to you and of course you will want to ridicule it. That is only natural. That is what happens when someone puts forth a paradigm shift that explains something much better than before. Conventionalism is the disease that afflicts the people that don’t want to admit that everything that has been taught for 100 years needs to go in the dumpster. That is how it has always worked. How would you have reacted when Galileo stated that the Earth was not the center of the universe? Would you have believed him? No. Not a chance.

        • Extraordinary claims requires extraordinary evidence which you have yet to provide. You site a mystery where one does not exist. Although the Kola Superdeep Borehole is the deepest drill, it only achieved 0.02% of the distance to the core. Underwhelming to say the least. If you want to be taken seriously, present the data that backs up your ideas. Show how the current heat balance calculations are incorrect, show the calculations of the how a Quark plasma ball can exist (and be undetectable). In conclusion show something.

          • Mike Pollock | March 31, 2022 at 3:44 am |

            I showed you. Didn’t you pay attention? Everything I mentioned above is unexplained by scientists and their current theories. They only dug a small distance into the Earth and the temperature was already almost twice as hot as they thought it would be. I explained this heat with a theory that our planet began itself as a star, not gas and dust. At the outer edges of this plasma, neutrons and hydrogen exist. That is where the unexplained hydrogen came from. Black holes are made of quark plasma. What do you think they are made of? Magic? My theory explains many other problems that the theory you have been taught never will. It’s been 100 years and counting. Look up my name and our dark matter behind it. You’ll find all the answers you need that you don’t have.

        • ‘Because I said so’ is not evidence or proof. A word salad of science terms doesn’t hide the fact your ideas have not been rigorously tested, or tested at all. Not sure where you received your science degree, but I’m sure they would have taught scientific methods.

          • Mike Pollock | March 31, 2022 at 2:29 pm |

            Scientific method? You are ignoring the scientific method. Don’t you understand? What did they say?

            “There are many more mysteries than certainties.”

            You don’t want to use the scientific method. You want everything to stay the way it is. I listen to what they say and you do not. You have the “word salad” whatever that is supposed to mean.

  3. We have theory, but no proof of. We may never know, we are human, and only God himself can and does know how the universe came to be and works. So, until he is ready to reveal his ways, all we can do is speculate, and enjoy all he has created, and thank him for the chance to live and wonder!!!

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