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Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade: Better Uses For Earth’s Dwindling Helium Supply

The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade boasts gigantic balloons that are using up some of the world's dwindling supply of helium.

Tomorrow morning, while parents are prepping Tommy Turkey for the oven and fighting over who is going to have to sit by crazyAunt Ruth at dinner, kids all over America will be parked in front of the television, watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

The 80-plus-year tradition begins at 9 am every Thanksgiving morning, and boasts over a dozen gigantic helium balloons. Those brave enough to face the cold can assemble the night before and watch those balloons get inflated. While Spider-Man and Kermit the Frog are prepared for their parade debut, according to Slate, “you’ll also witness the squandering of the global supply of helium.”

So, are there more important uses for helium, other than sucking balloons to sounds like Alvin the Chipmunk? While it’s best-known use may be for balloons such as those in Macy’s parade, the element’s scientific uses are arguable more valuable. No other gas in as light without being combustible. It has a very low boiling point and high thermal conductivity, which make is vital for aerospace engineering, deep-sea diving, and cryogenics.

While a world without gigantic flying balloons would make any good clown cry, a world without MRI machines is a bit more dire.

And without liquid helium, the superconducting magnets in MRI machines wouldn’t work.

So, why is helium so easy to spend if its allegedly running out? A 1996 act of Congress make the price of helium artificially low, so there’s little to stop people from over-using it.

The helium we use today, found in underground gas pockets, is abundant in the universe but more elusive here on earth. While some experts say that our limited supply will be gone in 40 years, there are those who maintain that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Skeptics of the helium panic don’t see any reason to retire Macy’s gigantic floating characters, saying that we’ll have plenty of the element for the next 300 years.

What do you think of the alleged helium crisis?

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