There were no galaxies, no stars, or even molecules in the eons following the big Bang. There were, however, many atoms. With a whole universe of mass atomic form, it was only a matter of time before the formation of the first molecules. Scientists have long suspected that hydride is the first molecule in the universe, but no one has ever detected it in the space up to now. NASA has spotted helium hydride many light-years in a planetary nebula.
Scientists at the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy at NASA (SOFIA) have now confirmed the existence of helium hydride in the planetary nebula NGC 7027. This cloud of dust and gas, vestige of a star similar to that of the sun disappeared a long time ago, makes 3000-year in the constellation of the Swan.
The primitive universe was too hot for there to exist anything other than helium and hydrogen atoms. Scientists estimate that it took about 100,000 years to the universe to cool enough for the first molecules to form. It is logical that these first molecules are helium hydride and would have played a vital role in the formation of the first stars. Once the universe cooled, the hydrogen could have interacted with helium hydride, producing the molecular hydrogen at the origin of the first stars. In the stars, hydrogen is fused into all the heavier elements we see in the modern universe.
NASA describes helium hydride as "rubbery". Helium is a noble gas that rarely combines with other elements. However, it was possible to create helium hydride, but the conditions necessary for the generation of the molecule are naturally rare. Astronomers have long suspected that NGC 7027 would have the perfect combination of ultraviolet radiation and heat.
To reduce the interference of the Earth's atmosphere, SOFIA instruments have been integrated into a Boeing 747SP capable of flying at 45,000 feet. The 106-inch telescope recently received an upgraded instrument called the terahertz German receiver, which added the channel needed to look for helium hydride. When astronomers told him NGC 7027, the helium hydride signal became clear as the day.
Confirming the existence of helium hydride predicted by scientists is an important step in understanding the primitive universe. We can now focus on exploring other forecasts with more confidence.