Scientists say the discovery of a huge helium gas field in East Africa will end a global shortage. The new field contains as much as 54 billion cubic feet of the gas.
British scientists said Tuesday the find was a "game changer" that will allow the continued use of the rare gas for scientific projects where consumption currently outstrips supply.
Researchers say the discovery of as much as 54 billion cubic feet (1.5 billion cubic meters) of the gas in southern Tanzania could satisfy total world demand for almost seven years at current rates.
We sampled helium gas, and nitrogen, just bubbling out of the ground," said Chris Ballentine, a professor at the University of Oxford who was involved in testing the gasses, adding the find was "enough to fill over 1.2 million medical MRI scanners".
Helium is also used in scientific research, spaceships, weather balloons and telescopes - as well as party balloons and for squeaky-voiced comic effect.
This is the first time helium has been found intentionally, said a statement from the university. Until now, the gas has been found in small amounts accidentally during oil and gas drilling.
It is thought that volcanic activity in the Rift Valley created the high temperatures necessary to release the gas from ancient rocks, where it rose closer to the surface, making it ripe for exploitation.
A Norwegian mining company worked with the scientists on a new exploration technique that is credited with the discovery.
Scientists plan to use their approach in the hopes of making other discoveries elsewhere in world with similar geological history.
mm/jr (AFP, AP)