Big Bang theory SHOCK: NASA discovers first molecules from infant days of universe

When the universe was violently born 13.8 billion years ago in the Big Bang, only a few atoms existed in the universe. These atoms, mostly helium and hydrogen, were abundant in the early cosmos but there was not much to them. However, about 100,000 years after exploded into existence, the helium and hydrogen began to combine, forming the first ever molecule. The molecule is known as helium hydride and is one of the simplest ions, or positively charged molecules, known to scientists.

Astronomers have searched the cosmos far and wide for stellar clouds of this molecule but have been unsuccessful in the endeavour until now.

On Wednesday, April 17, ’s scientists at the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, revealed they have located a cloud of helium hydride in a distant nebula.

Harold Yorke, director of the SOFIA Science Center, said: “This molecule was lurking out there, but we needed the right instruments making observations in the right position – and SOFIA was able to do that perfectly.”

SOFIA’s astronomers have tracked the elusive molecule to a distant nebula of gas known as NGC 7027.


NGC 7027 is a so-called planetary nebula – a ring-shaped cloud of cosmic gas drifting around an ageing star.

The nebula is found about 3,000 light-years from the constellation Cygnus or about 278,867,420,000 miles away.

NASA said in a statement: “The discovery serves as proof that helium hydride can, in fact, exist in space.

“This confirms a key part of our basic understanding of the chemistry of the early universe and how it evolved over billions of years into the complex chemistry of today.”


The discovery was unveiled for the first time in the science journal Nature.

NASA said as the early cosmos began to cool down and individual atoms bonded with each other, conditions cooled enough for matter to form.

Helium hydride was the first of these “primordial” bonds to form and eventually led to the creation of molecular hydrogen.

Molecular hydrogen is widely considered a crucial element responsible for the early creation of stars.


And yet, without physical observations of helium hydride in space, the “first step in the birth of chemistry” remained largely unproven.

Rolf Guesten of the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Germany, said: “The lack of evidence of the very existence of helium hydride in interstellar space was a dilemma for astronomy for decades

He went on to say: “It was so exciting to be there, seeing helium hydride for the first time in the data.

“This brings a long search to a happy ending and eliminates doubts about our understanding of the underlying chemistry of the early universe.”

NASA’s SOFIA is a mobile 106-inch diameter telescope mounted inside of a modified Boeing 747SP aeroplane.


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