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Most ancient type of molecule of the Universe discovered

Most ancient type of molecule of the Universe discovered

Helium hydride ion, the first molecule that formed almost 14 billion years ago, was detected by NASA's flying observatory SOFIA towards a planetary nebula.

Scientists have detected the most ancient type of molecule in our universe in space for the first time ever.

It was discovered with the help of the GREAT spectrometer aboard SOFIA in the envelope of the planetary nebula NGC 7027.

Helium Hydride Ion

Helium hydride ion (HeH+) was the first molecule that formed when, almost 14 billion years ago, falling temperatures in the young universe allowed recombination of the light elements produced in the Big Bang.

At that time, ionised hydrogen and neutral helium atoms reacted to form HeH+, said researchers from The Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy (MPIfR) in Germany.

Despite its importance in the history of the early Universe, HeH+ has so far escaped detection in astrophysical nebulae — cloud of gas and dust in outer space.

How it was formed?

Helium combined first with free electrons to form the first ever neutral atom. At that time hydrogen was still ionized or present in form of bare protons. Helium atoms combined with these protons into the helium hydride ion HeH+, the universe’s first molecular bond.

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.

GREAT Spectrometer and SOFIA

German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies (GREAT) is a spectrometer loaded on the flight of Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) launched in 2011.

The GREAT instrument is a receiver for spectroscopic observations at far-infrared frequencies between 1.2 and 5 terahertz (wavelengths between 60 and 250 microns).

Those wavelengths are not accessible from ground-based telescopes because of atmospheric water vapor absorption.

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