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!
Things we talk about in this episode:
NASA announces the Helium Hydride discovery
The original Nature paper