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A flying observatory has pinpointed the first type of molecule that formed in the universe after the Big Bang.
Helium hydride — a combination of helium and hydrogen — was detected roughly 3,000 light-years from Earth by NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). The molecule was found in a planetary nebula, NGC 7027, which is the dusty remnant of a sun-like star.
Hundreds - Thousands - Years - Big - Bang
For hundreds of thousands of years after the Big Bang, the universe was too hot and too full of radiation for atoms to bond together. At that time, only a few types of atoms existed, including hydrogen, helium and lithium. However, the new study shows that 100,000 years after the Big Bang, the universe cooled enough for helium and hydrogen to combine, forming the molecule known as helium hydride.
Scientists have detected the universe's first molecule, helium hydride, in a distant planetary nebula called NGC 7027.
Helium - Hydride - Laboratory - Setting - Discovery
While helium hydride has been produced and tested in a laboratory setting, this discovery marks the first time that the molecule has been detected in space — which sheds light on the chemistry of the early universe, according to a statement from NASA.
"This molecule was lurking out there, but we needed the right instruments making observations in the right position — and SOFIA was able to do that perfectly," Harold Yorke, director of the SOFIA Science Center in California's Silicon Valley, said in the statement.
Universe - Hydrogen - Atoms
Once the universe cooled down, hydrogen atoms started to interact with...
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