We all know about the Big Bang, and the birth of our ever-expanding universe, but what happened moments (relatively speaking) after that? Well scientists have long theorised that the first molecule, helium hydride, form 100 000 years later when helium and hydrogen atoms came into contact with one another.
That theory has become all the more credible after NASA scientists discovered the first evidence for helium hydride nearly 3 000 light years away. More specifically it was NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy or SOFIA for you and us.
The scientists at SOFIA found the evidence in NGC 7027, which is a planetary nebula, or remnants of a star.
As for why this latest discovery is important, it proves that helium hydride is able to exist in space, as well as confirms several other theories as to how the universe was formed following the Big Bang. In particular how the chemistry of the universe as we know it today came into being, with a full report on this available in the most recent edition of Nature (paywall).
“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,” enthused Harold Yorke, director of the SOFIA Science Centre.
As Engadget points out, this discovery also showcases the capabilities of the technology afforded to NASA, with their SOFIA project being the largest airborne observatory in the world.
Deployed from a modified Boeing 747SP jetliner, the SOFIA team explains that their system is highly customisable and can be tailored with new equipment all the time, thanks to the observatory returning from flights frequently.
As such, discoveries like this latest one can become more frequent.
For a better understanding of the Helium Hydride discovery and its significance, hit play on the video below.