The gas named after the Greek word for sun is “helium.” The name “helium” derives from the Greek word “helios,” which directly translates to “sun.”
Helium’s discovery is rooted in the field of astronomy, before it was identified on Earth. The story begins during a solar eclipse in 1868. Sir Norman Lockyer, an English astronomer, and his French counterpart, Pierre Janssen, independently observed a bright yellow line in the sun’s spectrum. This line did not match any known elements at that time. Lockyer deduced that this line was evidence of a new element present in the sun. He named this new element “helium” after “helios.”
It wasn’t until nearly three decades later, in 1895, that helium was isolated on Earth by the Swedish chemist Sir William Ramsay. While working with a mineral called cleveite, Ramsay detected the presence of an unknown gas, which turned out to be helium. Around the same time, Per Teodor Cleve and Abraham Langlet, also from Sweden, independently found helium in cleveite.
Today, helium is known as the second lightest and second most abundant element in the universe, predominantly formed during the Big Bang and through nuclear fusion in stars. Its applications on Earth are vast, ranging from cooling MRI machines in hospitals to inflating balloons.