Universe’s 1st type of molecule found at last

earthsky.org | 4/24/2019 | Eleanor Imster
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Click For Photo: https://en.es-static.us/upl/2019/04/planetary-nebula-helium-hydroxide-molecule-1-e1555610641428-300x219.jpg

Scientists have announced that the first type of molecule that ever formed in the universe has been detected in space for the first time, after decades of searching. A paper on the discovery was published April 17, 2019, in the peer-reviewed journal Nature.

The molecule, helium hydride, or HeH+, formed just after the Big Bang nearly 14 billion years ago, said scientists with Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Radioastronomy. The researchers discovered the molecule’s signature in our own Milky Way galaxy using NASA’s airborne SOFIA observatory, as the aircraft flew high above the Earth’s surface and pointed its instruments out into space.

SOFIA - Stratospheric - Observatory - Infrared - Astronomy

SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy) soars over the snow-covered Sierra Nevada mountains with its telescope door open during a test flight. SOFIA is a modified Boeing 747SP aircraft. Image via NASA/Jim Ross.

When the universe was still very young, only a few kinds of atoms existed, mostly helium and hydrogen. Scientists believe that around 100,000 years after the Big Bang, helium and hydrogen combined to make a molecule for the first time. Scientists have inferred that helium hydride was this first, primordial molecule. The problem, though, is that scientists could not find helium hydride in space. Rolf Guesten of the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, is lead author of the paper. Guesten said in a statement:

Lack - Evidence - Existence - Helium - Hydride

The lack of evidence of the very existence of helium hydride in interstellar space was a dilemma for astronomy for decades.

SOFIA found modern helium hydride in a planetary nebula, a remnant of what was once a sun-like star. Located 3,000 light-years away near the constellation Cygnus, the nebula – called NGC 7027 – has conditions that allow this mystery molecule to form. Harold Yorke is director of the SOFIA Science Center, in California’s Silicon Valley. Yorke said in a statement:


This molecule...
(Excerpt) Read more at: earthsky.org
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