How Scientists Found the First Type of Molecule in the Universe | SciShow News

How Scientists Found the First Type of Molecule in the Universe | SciShow News


[ ♪ Intro ] Almost 14 billion years ago, the universe
began with a big bang. And while that was great and all, the real
space news lately has been about what happened around a quarter of a million years later. By then, the newborn universe had finally cooled down enough for neutral, uncharged atoms to form. And at some point, those atoms combined. Specifically, helium atoms combined with charged
hydrogen ions to make the very first molecule: the helium hydride ion, called HeH+ for short. Then, this molecule went on to shape the first
stars and galaxies, and the rest is history. Of course, this story was originally just
based on our understanding of chemistry; no one was actually there to see this happen. And that led to a conundrum. Because after decades of searching, scientists had found no definitive evidence of helium hydride ions in space at all. That is, until now. In a paper published last week in the journal
Nature, an international team has reported that they have finally detected this elusive
ion! Now, to be clear, scientists knew that helium
hydride ions could exist, because they were created
in the lab way back in 1925. They just hadn’t been found anywhere in
interstellar space. A big part of the reason is probably that
is probably because these ions are incredibly reactive. Helium hydride is the strongest known acid, and it’ll react with any other neutral molecule it encounters. And a single electron will break it apart. In fact, the only thing it won’t react with
is another positively-charged ion. So we didn’t expect this search to be easy. Still, it’s not like scientists were being
unreasonable. They weren’t looking for the literal first
molecules in the universe, since those helium hydride ions
are long gone. Instead, they were studying places with conditions
similar to that of the early universe, and were trying to search for these ions there. They even had the perfect place to look: the
insides of planetary nebulas. These are beautiful shells of gas cast off
by dying stars, and they typically surround
a hot white dwarf star. The white dwarf drives intense waves of radiation
into the nebula, which are strong enough to rip electrons from atoms and create huge regions of ionization, where some interesting chemistry can take place. It doesn’t create exactly the same conditions
as in the early universe, but it’s the closest we’re likely to get. One especially promising nebula has been NGC
7027, which is about 3000 light-years away. This nebula is only around 600 years old,
which means it’s still really dense, and its central star is one of the hottest we
know of, burning at nearly 190,000°C. With all that dense gas and extreme radiation,
researchers have thought for a while that this nebula would create the ideal conditions
for helium hydride to form. But recently, the problem hasn’t been so
much where to look for these ions as how to actually see them. Astronomers are normally able to detect molecules
in space by tuning in to the characteristic frequencies that they vibrate at. The problem is, helium hydride vibrates the
strongest at incredibly high frequencies more than 2 Terahertz. That puts its emissions in the far infrared
part of the electromagnetic spectrum. And while some of our space telescopes have
been able to detect far infrared light, they haven’t been sensitive enough to distinguish
helium hydride ions from similar molecules. To make the situation even more complicated, things like water vapor in the Earth’s atmosphere are really good at absorbing infrared radiation, so any instruments here on the ground are more or less useless. But we did detect helium hydride ions. And to do it, we used a great piece of cutting-edge
tech onboard a flying observatory! It’s called GREAT, and it’s a new, super
sensitive receiver able to detect vibrations at more than
2 Terahertz. It was launched onboard SOFIA, a type of Boeing
747 jetliner that NASA modified to carry an almost 3-meter telescope. Even though SOFIA is still in the atmosphere,
it flies more than 12 kilometers above the ground, which is above most of the atmosphere’s
infrared-absorbing water. Also, the good thing about using a plane
instead of a satellite, is that new detectors can easily be installed, without the need for expensive and risky rocket launches. So GREAT was installed on SOFIA and linked
to its telescope, and together, they collected data from NGC 7027 for over an hour across three flights in 2016. Then, the processed data confirmed what astronomers
had hoped to find: that clear spectral signature of
the elusive helium hydride ion. This detection has helped put everyone’s mind at rest about what happened just after the Big Bang, but that’s not the only reason
it’s important. It’s also helping astronomers figure out
how molecules form and are destroyed in these heavily radiated environments. And now that we have the tech to spot helium
hydride ions in planetary nebulas, we can really study it. We can start to understand the processes from
the dawn of chemistry in more detail. Which is good news for scientists past and
present and future! Speaking of great news, if you love learning
with us here at SciShow, I think you’ll probably enjoy
our podcast. It’s called SciShow Tangents. It’s co-produced by me
and my buddy Sam Schultz, and created as a collaboration between Complexly and WNYC Studios. It’s hosted by Hank and Sam, along with
Stefan Chin from the main SciShow channel and Ceri Riley, who’s a bonafide genius
and writes for SciShow and Crash Course. In every episode, these four show up with
the most mind-blowing facts they can find about a topic and try not to go on too many tangents, but even their tangents are really fun and interesting. They also answer audience questions, make
up science poems, and go head-to-head in Truth or Fail. That’s a segment where somebody presents
two fake science facts and one real one, and the other hosts have to figure out which one
is the true fact. Which is surprisingly difficult, because the
made-up facts are very convincing. Listening to SciShow Tangents feels like hanging
out with your hilarious and super smart friends. New episodes come out every Tuesday and you can listen wherever and however you like listening to podcasts. [ ♪ Outro ]

34 Replies to “How Scientists Found the First Type of Molecule in the Universe | SciShow News”

  1. Everytime you show that model of the big bang 3d timeline. You start off from the left a flat 2d disc of the microwave background radiation. What I see is a representation of a Holographic projection of the 3d universe.

  2. Why do you only show only the last half of the reaction?  If you flip the last part and then add the second half, you get a much more representative diagram of the reaction.

  3. Would that not be a "first compond", as opposed to a "first molecule"? I mean, would a hydrogen molecule (H2) have formed before or after that one?

  4. It just always blows my mind "and now that we have the tech to spot helium hydride ions in planetary nebulas". I mean, those nebulas are far away, molecules are small, it is so mind boggling sometimes what humans can do. I love it.

  5. If you were to move toward a object in space that is millions of light years away at close to light speed with a telescope watching the destination the entire time would events through time that happened on that object appear to speed up kinda like a fast forward button like if aliens were to try to reach this planet would they see the progress of the human race 2x faster on the way here?

  6. Somebody needs to explain something to me, when they talk of the nubula NGC 7027, she mentions that it is approximately 3000 light years away from earth, okay that's fine… but then she goes on to say that the nebula is only about 600 years old… if that's the case, how can we see it yet? Shouldn't it be another 2400 years before we can see it? Or is she implying that the "Version" of this nebula we can see is an image of the nebula when it was only 600 years old, but is actually 3600 years old at this point in time..?

  7. It makes no sense to say "vibrates the strongest at incredibly high frequencies", when talking about far infrared photons. When you're talking about frequencies astronomers observe on, incredibly high frequencies means x-rays.

  8. Me : uploads a video on the same topic 1 week ago
    Tries hard to get a 100 views
    Scishow channel : more than 100k views
    || Well its because of the youtube algorithm || LOL

  9. big bang theory says, universe formed from the smallest atom, which is extremely small, but then where was this atom? it has to be already somewhere.
    Also, how can a small atom create these humongous galaxies, some are unimaginablly huge. If that theory is true, was there only 1 atom? there could be millions of atoms which exploded and formed millions of universes. All in all big bang theory is untrue, I think.
    There needs to be some other reason of our existence as well as formation of universe.

  10. Inquiry: if it's 3000 light years away, it means the light we receive has been sent by this cosmic event 3000 years in the past or more. So when you say that this nebula is 600years old, you mean that the light we receive is corresponding to a nebula 600 years old but now, as we speak, it's 3'600 years old?

    It's kind of mind blowing that every event in the sky we observe to do our science are far not only in space but in time.

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