By Nicola Davis
The most ancient type of molecule in our universe has been detected in space, scientists have revealed, backing up theories of how the early chemistry of the universe developed after the big bang.
The positively charged molecule known as helium hydride is believed to have played a starring role in the early universe, forming when a helium atom shared its electrons with a hydrogen nucleus, or proton. Not only is it thought to be the first molecular bond, and first chemical compound, to have appeared as the universe cooled after the big bang, but it also opened up the path to the formation of molecules of hydrogen.
But while helium hydride was produced in the laboratory almost a century ago, it has proved elusive to detect in space, despite predictions that it should be present in gas clouds in which stars are born, as well as in gas expelled by stars as they die.
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