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I've been thinking, could there possibly be an organism that is based on the element of helium? If yes, what would it look like? (Images are welcome)

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  • $\begingroup$ While the answers show the problem with this, what might be interesting is a lifeform living in an environment with a lot of helium $\endgroup$ – Gimli Jul 22 '18 at 10:19
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    $\begingroup$ what would it look like? (Images are welcome) Just to be clear, worldbuilding is not a site for exchanging fantasy images. $\endgroup$ – StephenG Jul 22 '18 at 11:31
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    $\begingroup$ Depends on what you mean by "based on". Chemistry, almost certainly not, but Larry Niven's Outsiders use superfluid helium as a circulatory fluid: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outsider_(Known_Space)#Metabolism $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jul 22 '18 at 16:52
  • $\begingroup$ I live in an environment with a lot of argon. I also have studied organic chemistry, OP you might want to do a little of that if you're planning to create <element> based life forms. $\endgroup$ – Harper Jul 22 '18 at 17:35
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    $\begingroup$ Asking what such life forms would look like is completely opinion based. If you removed that aspect of the question it would likely be fine. $\endgroup$ – Gryphon Jul 22 '18 at 23:52
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Helium is a noble gas, thus it's very unrealistic that such an lifeform exists.

However, Helium can react if under extreme pressure and temperatures,

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helium_hydride_ion

and therefore, if any Helium based life-form existed, it would (most likely) live under extreme conditions (high temperatures and pressure) like for example in the sun or deep inside gas giants like saturn and jupiter (at both places there is not just much temperature and pressure but also helium and hydrogen so the HeH+ could be created there).

I also think that if such a lifeform existed it would be a sort of "gas cloud" that can be splitted, squeezed etc. without taking damage because of the extreme conditions it would live in.

Anyway, I don't think such lifeforms exist anyway.

And if they existed, we wouldn't notice because we couldn't meet them anyway (with today's technology).

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Helium is a noble gas.

This means its reactivity toward other elements is practically null, so small that even its molecules are mono-atomic.

Life as we know it is based on several molecules formed by joining a small variety of atoms (Carbon, Nitrogen, Hydrogen, Phosphorus, Oxygen among them), reacting among them.

On the base of this premises, it is clear that helium is not a good candidate as base molecule for an organism.

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    $\begingroup$ Helium compounds are very unusual, but not impossible. Wikipedia has a page on the subject. The problem is these compounds are very unlikely to occur naturally and generally only in extreme lab conditions. Any life depending on Helium would fail simply because almost any other element would be more reactive and interfere with Helium attempting to bond with other elements. $\endgroup$ – StephenG Jul 22 '18 at 11:39
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    $\begingroup$ Adding to @StephenG's comment, the question is about Helium-based life. Life as we know it depends on many elements besides carbon, but we call it carbon-based because carbon is the base of the molecules of life. Helium has only two electrons in it's outer shell so it can only react with two other atoms. A 'DNA' based on Helium could only then be a long chain of helium with two other elements at either end. Carbon works because you can form chains with other elements in different positions, so you could never have 'Helium-based' because it could not form the base of building blocks. $\endgroup$ – Jason Goemaat Jul 23 '18 at 5:15
  • $\begingroup$ To learn more, look up valence electrons and covalent bonds. Carbon has four "open slots" to form covalent bonds with, making it an excellent material to form complex molecular structures naturally at low energy. Helium has zero open slots, and is so small it can't really support more than the two electrons it does have, so even when super high energy is available to force helium into molecules it couldn't be the building block life as we know it requires for the wide range of complex molecular structures it uses. $\endgroup$ – talrnu Jul 23 '18 at 14:22
  • $\begingroup$ @Jason Goemaat: But we also say that life (as we know it) is based on water, which doesn't have all those neat chemical bonding possibilities, but does dissolve a lot of stuff. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jul 23 '18 at 18:12
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf: Carbon based life refers to carbon ubiquitous nature in bio-chemistry. It's estimated that all biomass on earth is about 45-50% Carbon by weight. While water is necessary for several bio-chemical reactions, this amounts to a fraction of the remaining 50% of biological mass... which in addition to Oxygen and Hydrogen (includes water), as well as nitrogen and phosphorous and sulfur. That's why life is considered Carbon based. Water is certainly important, but by numbers it pails in comparison. $\endgroup$ – hszmv Jul 23 '18 at 19:35
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As others have pointed out, Helium is a noble gas, so does not act the way we think of when we think of "Carbon based lifeforms."

A helium based lifeform would be so far removed from what we think of as life that one would have to seriously question what it means to be "alive." We don't have a complete constructive definition for what that word means. Philosophers keep digging at it every generation. We've got some common traits that we think a living creature should have (such as reproduction and metabolism), but even those concepts get fuzzy when you go all the way out to where a helium based creature would be.

So my general answer would be "I can't tell you whether a helium creature can even exist until you pick a definition of 'alive.'" However, practically speaking, I'd be surprised if humanity would recognize such a creature as alive if it were to observe the creature. It would have to be too alien.

But if we achieved a level of peace and enlightenment on par with, say, the Nox from Stargate SG1, then I would only hope that we revisit those assumptions, and give those little balls of Helium the respect they may deserve.

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A particularly dense puff of cloud within a helium nebula, massive enough (or with a massive enough object at its core) that its own gravity stirs currents in the molecules of gas and dust from which it's formed, could resemble a living entity distinct from its surroundings. The forces holding it together, the interactions between its constituent elements, would need to form a stable system that naturally changes function or behavior as the conditions in the organism's external environment and internal state develop, and those systemic reactions would need to naturally lead to the preservation of the system. In other words, the cloud and its currents would need to remain relatively unchanged if some solar breeze blew through them, and whatever material is spent or lost by the processes within the cloud would need to be neatly replaced by material newly encountered in and drawn from its surroundings. It might be possible for such a system to naturally tend to become divided into multiple instances of the same stable system under the right conditions, and this might be considered replication. It's unlikely any more sophisticated features of life than these could develop in such a system.

Consider however that this would all be happening on a scale of space and time outside of the reach of human experience. Even the densest nebulae are so dispersed in space as to be practically invisible to the human eye up close, so this "creature" would have to be observed from relativistic distances. And because matter, even the dust in those gravitational currents, moves at a near-infinitessimal fraction of the speed of light, those movements over such great distances would cause just one pulse of whatever constitutes this creature's heartbeat to outlast a human life. It would take humankind generations of close observation just to realize this particular wisp's peculiarity.

And even then, most would just call it a funny cloud.

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