SOFIA detects the first type of molecule ever formed in the universe

SOFIA detects the first type of molecule ever formed in the universe

Scientists have figured that the two atoms combined to produce the universe's first molecule, helium hydride or HeH+.

From a cruising altitude of almost 14,000 meters (45,000 feet), the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, avoided 85 percent of the atmospheric "noise" of ground-based telescopes.

As recombination progressed, HeH+ reacted with then neutral hydrogen and created a first path to the formation of molecular hydrogen - marking the beginning of the modern universe. "It was so exciting to be there, seeing helium hydride for the first time in the data", Guesten says. Moreover, helium-a "noble" gas-"has a very low proclivity for form molecules", Neufeld explained.

A high-resolution spectrometer called GREAT on board SOFIA detected the molecule in the planetary nebula NGC 7027.

The discovery serves as proof that helium hydride can, in fact, exist in space.

The discovery of a molecule hiding in the solar system is an important step in confirming hypotheses about the ancient universe and the interactions that occurred after the Big Bang.

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The researchers published their findings Wednesday in Nature after a multi-decade search to catch a glimpse of the universe's oldest molecule. Scientists believe that just after the Big Bang, there were very few atoms in the universe and Hydrogen and Helium were prominent among them.

"The chemistry of the Universe began with HeH". Scientists have inferred that helium hydride was this first, primordial molecule. The ion that is called the origin of the creation of the universe, had not been found anywhere in space, because of which the entire theory of the universe about the creation of the universe was being questioned.

"The lack of evidence of the very existence of helium hydride in interstellar space was a dilemma for astronomy for decades", Rolf Guesten, lead author of the study from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, said in the statement. At that time space was filled with essential one-atom elements and molecules were quite rare.

So no, they didn't discover the exact earliest helium hydride, but now scientists can perhaps go back to hunting for the signature from farther sources, said Blake. Stars would not form for another 100 million years. Subsequent efforts hinted it could be there, but the mystery molecule continued to elude detection.

In 2016, scientists turned to SOFIA for help. But it has a benefit space telescopes don't- it returns after every flight. That all changed when SOFIA got the GREAT (German Receive at Terahertz Frequencies) upgrade, enabling it to pinpoint the molecule in the nebula's soup simply like any normal individual would pluck peas out of their minestrone. Finally, hydrogen hydride's infrared signal is detected clearly across the cosmos.

SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, is a Boeing 747SP jetliner modified to carry a 106-inch diameter telescope.

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