Scientists think the first type of molecule to form after the universe burst into existence 13.8 billion years ago was a compound called helium hydride. It’s made up of the elements helium (He) and hydrogen (H). For decades, scientists searched outer space for signs of the elusive molecule. Then last year, NASA’s SOFIA jet plane observatory detected helium hydride in a nebula. The hot, dense conditions in this cloud of gas and dust in space are similar to those present at the birth of the universe. Helium hydride breaks down very easily, says David Neufeld, an astrochemist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. “Finding it in our universe was sort of amazing.”