Elusive molecule, first in Universe, detected in space

Elusive molecule, first in Universe, detected in space
Illustration of planetary nebula NGC 7027 and helium hydride molecules. In this planetary nebula, SOFIA detected helium hydride, a combination of helium (red) and hydrogen (blue), which was the first type of molecule to ever form in the early universe. This is the first time helium hydride has been found in the modern universe. Credit: NASA/SOFIA/L. Proudfit/D.Rutter

In the beginning, more than 13 billion years ago, the Universe was an undifferentiated soup of three simple, single-atom elements.

Stars would not form for another 100 million years.

But within 100,000 years of the Big Bang, the very first molecule emerged, an improbable marriage of helium and hydrogen known as a helium hydride ion, or HeH+.

"It was the beginning of chemistry," said David Neufeld, a professor at John's Hopkins University and co-author of a study published Wednesday detailing how—after a multi-decade search—scientists finally detected the elusive molecule in space.

"The formation of HeH+ was the first step on a path of increasing complexity in the Universe," as momentous a shift as the one from single-cell to multicellular life on Earth, he told AFP.

Theoretical models had long since convinced astrophysicists that HeH+ came first, followed—in a precise order—by a parade of other increasingly complex and heavy molecules.

HeH+ had also been studied in the laboratory, as early as 1925.

But detected HeH+ in its had remained beyond their grasp.

"The lack of definitive evidence of its very existence in interstellar space has been a dilemma for astronomy for a long time," said lead author Rolf Gusten, a scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Radioastronomy in Bonn.

Elusive molecule, first in Universe, detected in space
Spectrum of HeH+ as observed with GREAT on board of SOFIA towards the planetary nebula NGC 7027. In the underlying image from the Hubble/NICMOS camera, the sharp transition zone between the ionized HII region (white-yellow) and the cool envelope (red colour) is nicely visible. It is in this ionization front where HeH+ is formed (marked by an artist’s concept of the molecular structure). The sky area covered by the GREAT instrument with a size of 14.3 arcsec includes most of the nebula’s emission. The spectral line width of the HeH+ profile is determined by the motion of the expanding envelope. Credits: Composition: NIESYTO design; Image NGC 7027: William B. Latter (SIRTF Science Center/Caltech) and NASA/ESA; Spectrum: Rolf Güsten/MPIfR (Nature, April 18, 2019)

Researchers knew where to look.

Already in the 1970s, models suggested that HeH+ should exist in significant quantities in the glowing gases ejected by dying Sun-like stars, which created conditions similar to those found in the early Universe.

A fragile molecule

The problem was that the electromagnetic waves given off by the molecule were in a range—far-infrared—cancelled out by Earth's atmosphere, and thus undetectable from the ground.

So NASA and the German Aerospace Center joined forces to create an airborne observatory with three main components: a massive 2.7-metre telescope, an , and a Boeing 747—with a window-like square cut away from it fuselage—big enough to carry them.

From a cruising altitude of nearly 14,000 metres (45,000 feet), the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, avoided 85 percent of the atmospheric "noise" of ground-based telescopes.

Data from a series of three flights in May 2016 contained the molecular evidence scientists had long sought, interlaced in the planetary nebula NGC 7027 some 3,000 light years away.

Scientists on the airborne observatory SOFIA detected the first type of molecule that ever formed in the universe. They found the combination of helium and hydrogen, called helium hydride, in a planetary nebula near the constellation Cygnus. This discovery confirms a key part of our basic understanding of the early universe and how it evolved over billions of years into the complex chemistry of today. Credits: NASA/Ames Research Center

"The discovery of HeH+ is a dramatic and beautiful demonstration of Nature's tendency to form molecules," said Neufeld.

In this case, it did so despite inauspicious circumstances.

Even though temperatures in the young Universe fell rapidly after the Big Bang, they were still in the neighbourhood of 4,000 degrees Celsius, a hostile environment for molecular bonding.

Moreover, helium—a "noble" gas—"has a very low proclivity for form molecules," Neufeld explained.

It's union with ionised hydrogen was fragile, and did not persist for very long, replaced by progressively more robust and complex molecular bonds.

Heavier elements such as carbon, oxygen and nitrogen—and the many they gave rise to—were formed later still by the nuclear reactions that power stars.


Explore further

Cosmic dust forms in supernovae blasts

More information: Rolf Güsten et al. Astrophysical detection of the helium hydride ion HeH+, Nature (2019). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-019-1090-x
Journal information: Nature

© 2019 AFP

Citation: Elusive molecule, first in Universe, detected in space (2019, April 17) retrieved 16 July 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-04-elusive-molecule-universe-space.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.
4162 shares

Feedback to editors

User comments

Apr 17, 2019
I want to read somewhere in the article why hydrogen atoms didn't form the first molecule.

Apr 17, 2019
Why would such a fragile and unstable molecule be made in such a hot environment? Why not just H2 and He separately? It is nonsensical.

Apr 17, 2019
Maybe the Shadow knows the answers to your questions?

Sorry to have to be the one break the news to you boys.
But the Universe doesn't give a rat's crap for your expressions of ignorant opinions.

If you got any proof of your opinions?
Hah! Neither of you have the educated cojones to recognize or evaluate evidence.

Oh who am I kidding?
I luuuvv rubbing the noses of the looneytoons in their own simian crap.

HeH molecule...."Ah! That damned, elusive Pimpernel!"

Apr 17, 2019
"In the beginning, more than 13 billion years ago, the Universe was an undifferentiated soup of three simple, single-atom elements." So there was hydrogen, helium and...? Which was the third element? Lithium? Beryllium?

Apr 17, 2019
I want to read somewhere in the article why hydrogen atoms didn't form the first molecule.
Because at 4000K molecular hydrogen can't form.

Apr 17, 2019
Maybe the Shadow knows the answers to your questions?
Sorry to have to be the one break the news to you boys.
But the Universe doesn't give a rat's crap for your expressions of ignorant opinions.
You need to calm down. I know the answer to the puzzle, I just want to know why such an obvious puzzle wouldn't have been answered in the above article itself, since it was anticipated in the Nature article:

"During the dawn of chemistry, when the temperature of the young Universe had fallen below some 4,000 kelvin, the ions of the light elements produced in Big Bang nucleosynthesis recombined in reverse order of their ionization potential. With their higher ionization potentials, the helium ions He2+ and He+ were the first to combine with free electrons, forming the first neutral atoms; the recombination of hydrogen followed. ...neutral helium atoms formed the Universe's first molecular bond in the helium hydride ion HeH+ "

Apr 17, 2019
"In the beginning, more than 13 billion years ago, the Universe was an undifferentiated soup of three simple, single-atom elements." So there was hydrogen, helium and...? Which was the third element? Lithium? Beryllium?
Lithium. You can look it up.

Apr 17, 2019
I want to read somewhere in the article why hydrogen atoms didn't form the first molecule.
Because at 4000K molecular hydrogen can't form.
This said, however, I would expect the odd H with an outlier (low) kinetic energy might pair up with an electron every now and then and hang around a while. More rarely, it might encounter another neutral H, having met an electron in like manner coming through the rye...

Apr 17, 2019
Science is hard, lets just troll them and call them dumb while we get drunk on the internet - This comment section usually

Apr 18, 2019
""In the beginning, more than 13 billion years ago, the Universe was an undifferentiated soup of three simple, single-atom elements." So there was hydrogen, helium and...? Which was the third element? Lithium? Beryllium?

Lithium. You can look it up."

No, Lithium and Beryllium are not believed to be formed in the early universe (or in stars for that matter), but rather from spallation of cosmic rays. You can't make those elements by fusing lighter ones together, since adding hydrogen to helium would create nuclei with a mass of 5 or 8 and all nuclei with a mass of 5 or 8 are unstable.

Pretty sure Boron can't form in stars for similar reasons, but maybe it can in the putative hypothetical big bang model of the early universe?

Of Course, we could guess that because elements 3,4 and 5 are not so common as they would be if they were formed in the early universe.

Apr 18, 2019
If you're just gonna lie, @Jax, there's no point in arguing with you.

No, Lithium and Beryllium are not believed to be formed in the early universe
According to whom? Got a paper to cite?

I'll just go with Wikipedia:
Though it was synthesized in the Big Bang, lithium (together with beryllium and boron) is markedly less abundant in the universe than other elements. This is a result of the comparatively low stellar temperatures necessary to destroy lithium, along with a lack of common processes to produce it.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithium There's a citation there, of a paper. Just follow the link on Wikipedia and you can see the paper.

Apr 18, 2019
"In the beginning, more than 13 billion years ago, the Universe was an undifferentiated soup of three simple, single-atom elements." So there was hydrogen, helium and...? Which was the third element? Lithium? Beryllium?
Lithium. You can look it up.
yeah it's funny how people on the INTERNET use the INTERNET to ask people to look things up for them on the INTERNET.

Apr 18, 2019
Why do trolls think lying is going to work?

Why should anyone care? Put 'em on ignore and move on.

Apr 18, 2019
Science is hard, lets just troll them and call them dumb while we get drunk on the internet - This comment section usually


They are the global village idiots - and likely proud of it.

Apr 18, 2019
https://www.forbe...48a039e6

Once you get past 3,4, and 5, there are some common elements again at 6,7, and 8: Carbon Nitrogen and Oxygen.

Count my posts and count yours and ask yourself who is the troll?

Apr 18, 2019
Stable Lithium isotopes can only be formed from the spallation or decay of much heavier elements than are theorized to have been created by the Big Bang.

Apr 18, 2019
"Though it was synthesized in the Big Bang, lithium (together with beryllium and boron) is markedly less abundant in the universe than other elements. This is a result of the comparatively low stellar temperatures necessary to destroy lithium. . ."

That doesn't even make any sense: Lithium was created en mass by the Big Bang along with Hydrogen and Helium, despite the fact that Lithium 5 is unstable, and then somehow it ALL got sucked up and burned up in stars? This Big Bang Theory needs a little work.


Apr 18, 2019
"In the beginning, more than 13 billion years ago, the Universe was an undifferentiated soup of three simple, single-atom elements." So there was hydrogen, helium and...? Which was the third element? Lithium? Beryllium?
Lithium. You can look it up.
yeah it's funny how people on the INTERNET use the INTERNET to ask people to look things up for them on the INTERNET.


He gave the answer: "Lithium. You can look it up." As in, "Lithium."

"You can look it up," following an answer, means, "If you don't believe me, you can verify it by looking it up."

Apr 18, 2019
Except Lithium is the wrong answer.

Apr 18, 2019
Lithium is the correct answer.

Apr 18, 2019
If the universe originally consisted of an undifferentiated soup of only three elements, and one was Lithium, there would be more of it now.

https://www.forbe...48a039e6

Apr 18, 2019
uhh, Jax,comanding that the Universe it has to work as you demand?
Is not a sign of sanity.
Just poor anger management issues.

& when the new evidence contradicts the old?
Only a coprolite would refuse to at least reconsider their opinion.

Apr 18, 2019
"You can look it up," following an answer, means, "If you don't believe me, you can verify it by looking it up."
But littel Pudel, why would anyone trust anyone on a site like this to feed them the correct info? Because, after all, this site is on the INTERNET.

Do you? Especially when you can just GOOGLE it?

The correct response to someone who asks you to look something up for him is 'do it yourself you toad.' Or somesuch.

Apr 18, 2019
@rrwillsj,

What new evidence with respect to Lithium? I haven't seen any.

The only issue here is Da Schneib gave a wrong answer and you all can't admit it.

Apr 18, 2019
I agree with Da Schneib -- I was about to give the same answer, but he beat me to it, and there was, then, no reason for me to chime in. Now there is.

Apr 18, 2019
@observicist
@Da Schneib
@JaxPavan.

The link posted by @JaxPavan would indicate that both @Da Schneib's and @Oservicist's 'answer' (ie, Lithium) was incorrect. The linked text explains the physics and the consequences, which militate against "Lithium" being the correct answer.

So, @Da Schneib and @observicist, I for one would be very much interested in any counterarguments you have to the arguments made in linked explanation/conclusion re the actual provenance of "Lithium" abundance observed. Thanks. :)

Apr 18, 2019
"You can look it up," following an answer, means, "If you don't believe me, you can verify it by looking it up."
It also means, "this is a well-enough known fact that it's on the first top 20 hits on Google. Are you so stupid you don't know how to use 'teh google?'"

Note the repeated use of the argument from stupidity by @Jax: "I can't imagine it so it must not be true."

Apr 18, 2019
https://aasnova.o...problem/

Published in the prestigious collection of scientific notices in the journals of the American Astronomical Society, AAS Nova. Next @Jax will be lying about the AAS.

Apr 18, 2019
For classicists among us, the technical term for the argument from stupidity is argumentum ad ignorantiam.

Apr 18, 2019
@Da Schneib,

I'm rather pleased, but not surprised, you knew that.

My favorite form of it is the "argument from incredulity" (that version is still classified as argumentum ad ignorantiam).

Apr 18, 2019
Da Schneib,

So, we're back to Big Bang patch up "neo-epicycles." Personally, in any such dispute, I'll stick with the classical astrophysicist rather than the cosmologist any day. But, maybe that's just me; I'm suspicious of politically driven status quo anywhere, but particularly in science.

You should forward your thoughts to the author about his paper being a deliberate lie.

Apr 18, 2019
Personally I think it's quite an interesting explanation for the paucity of elements 3,4, and 5, that they can only be formed by cosmic ray spallation. And, I'm not disinclined to examine various patch up theories of the early Big Bang and debate them. But, it took you so long to post a serious reply; instead you posted a slew of the ad hominem attacks.

Apr 18, 2019
it took you so long to post a serious reply; instead you posted a slew of the ad hominem attacks.
You've never posted anything else when your wild speculations are argued with, so I don't know what you're whining about.

You should forward your thoughts to the author about his paper being a deliberate lie.
What are you lying about now?

Apr 19, 2019
@Da Schneib,

I'm rather pleased, but not surprised, you knew that.

My favorite form of it is the "argument from incredulity" (that version is still classified as argumentum ad ignorantiam).
I learned about the logical fallacies when I was young. You'd be surprised how many bullies use them. I don't like bullies much and I generally confront them. They don't like that much.

Apr 19, 2019
@Da Schneib,

No, I wouldn't be surprised at how many bullies use logical fallacies; I was forced to confront bullies, because for some reason they liked to pick on me. As I would counter their logical fallacies by pointing them out, they usually would then resort to violence. I learned how to defend myself, physically (in addition to intellectually, which was dead easy against bullies), quite young. My father encouraged me to learn how to handle myself in a fight, while also teaching me never to start one.

Apr 19, 2019
I contend that trolls are bullies. They act like bullies. They talk like bullies. They run away like bullies. They're bullies.

Apr 19, 2019
@Da Schneib,

You make an excellent argument for trolls being bullies.

Apr 19, 2019
@observicist
@Da Schneib
@JaxPavan.

I observe that @JaxPavan made comment on the science re "Lithium" provenance, complete with a relevant link; then neither @Da Schneib nor @observicist posted any relevant scientific counterargument/link in reply; but instead began an irrelevant (and unnecessarily personal/unpleasant) diversionary trolling session that introduced a nasty element to an otherwise science-related discussion re "Lithium" provenance.

So, @observicist and @Da Schneib, in the interests of objective science and debating fair play, please cease your personal/nasty diversions; and (if you have any) please provide relevant counterarguments/links to refute @JaxPavan's argument/link. If you do not, then you will be seen as the incorrect/irrelevant/trolling "bullying" parties in this instance.

Thanks in advance for your future co-operation in keeping to site rules.

Apr 19, 2019
@observicist
@Da Schneib
@JaxPavan.

I observe that @JaxPavan made comment on the science re "Lithium" provenance, complete with a relevant link; then neither @Da Schneib nor @observicist posted any relevant scientific counterargument/link in reply; but instead..

So, @observicist and @Da Schneib, in the interests of objective science and debating fair play, please cease your personal/nasty diversions; and please provide relevant counterarguments/links to refute @JaxPavan's argument/link. If you do not, then you will be seen as the incorrect/irrelevant/trolling "bullying" parties in this instance.

Thanks in advance for your future co-operation in keeping to site rules.
says RC

You are now the official Peacekeeper of physorg, RC. The former "professor" mentioned above appears to have set aside his former role of instructor and, instead, has decided to join forces with Captain Dumpy's attack dog DS to prevent those with legitimate science from presenting it to readers.

Apr 20, 2019
I thought @Da Schneib's answer regarding lithium was relevant. It was pretty much the same answer I got, plus I asked a couple of other physicist friends (who asked not to be named, and I don't blame them), and their answers were, "lithium."

Apr 20, 2019
Gee, @Satan sure does talk a lot like @113LiarRC.

please cease your personal/nasty diversions


provide relevant counterarguments/links


incorrect/irrelevant/trolling "bullying" parties


I'm calling @Satan @RC. Right here, right now.

Apr 20, 2019
Or perhaps that should be right here/right now.

Snicker.

Apr 20, 2019
Helium-hydride molecular ion

A positively charged ion
formed by the reaction of a proton with a helium atom in the gas phase
first produced in the laboratory in 1925
is isoelectronic with molecular hydrogen
is the strongest known acid
with a proton affinity of 177.8 kJ/mol
has been suggested since the 1970s that HeH+ should occur naturally in the interstellar medium
first unequivocal astrophysical detection was reported in 2019
is the simplest heteronuclear ion
is comparable with the hydrogen molecular ion, H+
unlike H+
It has a permanent dipole moment
Making its spectroscopic characterization easier
https://en.wikipe...ride_ion

Apr 20, 2019
Helium-hydride molecular ion

As Helium-hydride
is
formed by the reaction of a proton with a helium atom in the gas phase
if we
predispose
that this bigbang event occurred
this Helium-hydride
requires this universe to cool
to a gas
otherwise
This interesting molecule will fail to form!

Apr 20, 2019
Professor RealityCheck and his Monsters under every Stone

Observicist
Da Schneib
JaxPavan

I observed that JaxPavan made comment on the science
re Lithium provenance
complete with a relevant link
then
neither Da Schneib
nor
Observicist posted any relevant scientific counterargument
link in reply
but
instead began an irrelevant
and
unnecessarily personal
unpleasant
diversionary trolling session that introduced a nasty element
to
an otherwise science-related discussion re Lithium provenance.
so, Observicist and Da Schneib
in the interests of objective science
and
debating
fair play
please cease your personal
nasty diversions
and
if you have any
please provide relevant counterarguments
links
to refute JaxPavan's argument
link
If you do not
then you will be seen as the incorrect
irrelevant
trolling bullying parties in this instance.
Thanks in advance for your future co-operation in keeping to site rules

p.s. are these your last monsters, RealityCheck

Apr 20, 2019
Professor RealityCheck and his Monsters under every Stone

RealityCheck, when you uncover that very last monster
under
that very last stone
there is, RealityCheck going to be an abyss
an
enormous abyss in your life
that
is going to be a very large abyss to fill, RealityCheck
this abyss
this void is going to be a very burdensome burden to fill
because
RealityCheck, your life will be an empty shell with no stones to upturn
that
magic feeling when you upturn these stones finding these monsters
is
negated some what
as
some of these monsters are not the monsters you thought them to be
but
did you stop looking under stones, RealityCheck
proof if proof were needed RealityCheck
it is to large an Abyss to fill
Hunting monsters under stones is addictive, is it not RealityCheck

Apr 20, 2019
@granville583762.

Being objective, correct and polite re matters of science and humanity is its own reward, @granville.

Doing reality checks is a duty to both science and humanity; although not only is it a thankless task, it sometimes involves finding monsters on the net that need exposing/taming for the good of the community, both scientific and non-scientific. That last is implicitly adjured by the old saying: "For evil to flourish it is sufficient that good people to do and say nothing about it when they encounter it."

Never be afraid of doing the right thing, @granville. My philosophy is that to live is to "suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune"; so if one must suffer it may as well be while doing the right thing than doing the wrong thing; at least that way there is a silver lining to that suffering.

Anyhow, good luck, good thinking and good manners to you in your own life, mate. :)

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more