Geek Trivia

Which Of These Elements Was Discovered In Space Before It Was Found On Earth?

Beryllium
Helium
Iridium
Plutonium
Switzerland Has A Political Party Dedicated To The Elimination Of What?
The bright yellow line of helium in a spectrograph
McZusatz/Wikimedia

Answer: Helium

When it comes to the process of discovering, identifying, and studying chemical elements, the process for just about every element known to man has been terrestrial.

A curious exception to that is the discovery of helium. Before we discovered and identified it on Earth, scientists stumbled across it in space. Helium was first observed in the spectrum of the chromosphere of the Sun during a total solar eclipse in 1868—the bright yellow line is seen here.

French astronomer Jules Janssen and English astronomer Norman Lockyer are often jointly credited with the discovery of the element, but Lockyer was the first to propose it was a new element. Lockyer and English chemist Edward Frankland named it Helium after the Greek sun god Helios.

It wasn’t until 1895 that a terrestrial sample was found to study, however, when Scottish chemist, Sir William Ramsay, isolated helium on Earth by treating the mineral cleveite (a variety of uraninite with at least 10 percent rare earth elements) with mineral acids.