Based on scientists’ calculations, the first molecule to ever form from stray atoms in the universe was likely helium hydride, a combination of helium and hydrogen.
For decades, physicists have hunted the universe for the elusive molecule. And now an international team of researchers say they’ve finally found it — thereby confirming the presumed first step in the universe’s chemistry.
In a study published in the journal Nature Wednesday, the researchers describe how they used NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), the world’s largest airborne observatory, to detect helium hydride in a planetary nebula about 3,000 light-years away from Earth.
“It was so exciting to be there, seeing helium hydride for the first time in the data,” researcher Rolf Guesten said in a news release. “This brings a long search to a happy ending and eliminates doubts about our understanding of the underlying chemistry of the early universe.”
READ MORE: The Universe’s First Type of Molecule Is Found at Last [NASA]
More on the early universe: Scientists Now Know When the First Stars Formed in the Universe