The First Collaboration in the Universe
By Ishleen Sudan
Using the world’s largest airborne observatory, known as SOFIA (NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy), the first molecule ever formed in the universe has finally been detected! A monumental feat, achieved after decades of searching, has revealed that it is helium hydride, or HeH+.
In the very early years of the universe, only few types of atoms existed. Scientists now believe that helium and hydrogen formed around 100,000 years after the Big Bang. Despite its ancient origins, it should be present in modern parts of the universe, but has never been located until recently. The perfect conditions to find this molecule are in a planetary nebula called known as NGC 7027, near the constellation Cygnus and 3000 light years away. With help of the specialized SOFIA, we finally have proof that helium hydride does exist in space, and confirms our prior theory of how the universe evolved into the complex structure it is today from the formation of a simple molecule.
The combination of atoms to allow for molecules enabled the universe to cool, and led to the formation of stars, planets, and other celestial bodies. The discovery was monumental, as the lack of evidence of the very existence of helium hydride has been a conundrum of astronomical measure (literally) for decades. The particle that has eluded scientists since the beginning of time eludes us no more.