36: Scopes On A Plane!

Not long after the big bang started to fade, and the glowing-hot early universe cooled down a bit, things started to clump together. Not planets, stars and galaxies yet — smaller, much smaller.

First, atomic nuclei: Hydrogen, Helium. They then started to gather electrons to make ions and, eventually, neutral atoms. And finally, the first molecule was formed: HeH+, Helium Hydride — a Helium atom with a Hydrogen ion sticking off one side.

Or at least, that's what astronomers think happened, because no one has ever seen HeH+ anywhere in the universe outside the chemistry lab.

Until now, that is. Astronomers have used an infra-red telescope on an aeroplane (yep, on a PLANE!) to spot the tricksy molecule in a nearby planetary nebula. And turns out, Emily has been on that magic telescope-plane, and has photos to prove it!

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Syzygy is produced by Dr Chris Stewart and co-hosted by Dr Emily Brunsden from the Department of Physics at the University of York.

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Things we talk about in this episode:

NASA announces the Helium Hydride discovery

The original Nature paper

NGC 7027, the Gummy Bear Nebula

SOFIA, the scope on a plane that tweets

Adaptive Optics & Active Optics

Planetary Nebulae