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Quantum-state–selective electron recombination studies suggest enhanced abundance of primordial HeH+

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Science  16 Aug 2019:
Vol. 365, Issue 6454, pp. 676-679
DOI: 10.1126/science.aax5921

Enhanced abundance of primordial HeH+

Though only recently detected in space, the helium hydride ion (HeH+) is thought to be the first molecule ever to have formed in the early Universe. Novotný et al. report state-specific rate coefficients for the dissociative reaction of HeH+ with electrons, obtained using a cryogenic ion storage ring combined with a merged electron beam (see the Perspective by Bovino and Galli). They detect substantial rotational dependence and a decrease of the rates for the lowest states of HeH+, far below the values listed in astrochemistry databases and those previously applied in early-Universe models. These results suggest high abundance of this important primordial molecule at redshifts of first star and galaxy formation.

Science, this issue p. 676; see also p. 639

Abstract

The epoch of first star formation in the early Universe was dominated by simple atomic and molecular species consisting mainly of two elements: hydrogen and helium. Gaining insight into this constitutive era requires a thorough understanding of molecular reactivity under primordial conditions. We used a cryogenic ion storage ring combined with a merged electron beam to measure state-specific rate coefficients of dissociative recombination, a process by which electrons destroy molecular ions. We found a pronounced decrease of the electron recombination rates for the lowest rotational states of the helium hydride ion (HeH+), compared with previous measurements at room temperature. The reduced destruction of cold HeH+ translates into an enhanced abundance of this primordial molecule at redshifts of first star and galaxy formation.

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