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Scientists Discovers 'Cosmic Beginnings' Of Universe After Decades Of Searching

After decades of searching, scientists have finally found the first type of molecule in the universe.

The molecule, helium hydride, was found 3,000 light years away using NASA's Stratosperic Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) aircraft.

Scientists believe helium hydride was formed when helium and hydrogen combined just a short 100,000 years after the Big Bang -- which in itself was about 13.8 billion years ago.

“This molecule was lurking out there, but we needed the right instruments making observations in the right position — and SOFIA was able to do that perfectly,” SOFIA Science Center director Harold Yorke said.

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). Photo: NASA.

The team, made up of 10 international scientists, published their findings in science journal Nature.

The molecule was located in a planetary nebula called NGC 7027 near the constellation Cygnus.

“The lack of evidence of the very existence of helium hydride in interstellar space was a dilemma for astronomy for decades,” lead author Rolf Guesten said.

NASA hailed the molecule as being the "first step in the birth of chemistry", and had been an unproved theory until now.

It is believed that when the universe was first created in the Big Bang, it was so hot only a few atoms existed -- largely hydrogen and helium.

As the universe cooled, these atoms combined to make helium hydride. Scientists believe this to be the first ever molecule, dubbing it the "primordial molecule".

As the universe cooled further, this molecule "interacted" with hydrogen atoms, therefore creating molecular hydrogen which is the main factor in the formation of stars.

The planetary nebula NGC 7027., from the Hubble Telescope. Image: Getty Images

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The find is a relief for scientists who now know their understanding of chemistry is correct.

“It was so exciting to be there, seeing helium hydride for the first time in the data,” Guesten said.

“This brings a long search to a happy ending and eliminates doubts about our understanding of the underlying chemistry of the early universe."