Tags: saturn | titan | moon | plastic | molecule

Saturn Moon Titan Found to Have Plastic Molecule in Atmosphere

Image: Saturn Moon Titan Found to Have Plastic Molecule in Atmosphere

Thursday, 03 Oct 2013 05:06 PM

By Morgan Chilson

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On Saturn's Titan moon, a NASA probe discovered a molecule in the atmosphere that is used on Earth to make plastics.

The Cassini probe found propylene, which is the first time that molecule has been discovered off of Earth, the BBC reported.

“This chemical is all around us in everyday life, strung together in long chains to form a plastic called polypropylene,” scientist Conor Nixon said in a NASA release. “That plastic container at the grocery store with the recycling code 5 on the bottom – that’s polypropylene.”

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The propylene was found on Saturn’s Titan moon, which is primarily made up of hydrocarbons, mostly methane. Others that most people will recognize include propane, used to grill a lot of steaks on Earth, and ethane, which also is used to make plastic.

Cassini found the trace of propylene using an infrared spectrometer, according to Wired. The molecule’s presence fit right in with what the publication called the “alien chemistry” of Saturn’s moon.

“Titan is a weird and wet world much like our own, except that hydrocarbon rain falls into ethane seas instead of water,” Wired said. “Scientists have long wanted to explore such bodies with a boat-like probe but are thwarted by NASA’s plunging budget and the expense of mounting such an expedition.”

Propylene fetches about $90 billion every year on Earth, Wired said. It's plentiful enough that it’s unlikely it would be financially feasible to want to pull propylene from Titan’s surface.

“I am always excited when scientists discover a molecule that has never been observed before in an atmosphere,” said Cassini’s deputy project scientist Scott Edgington in a release. “This new piece of the puzzle will provide an additional test of how well we understand the chemical zoo that makes up Titan’s atmosphere.”

Other data has been streaming in from Cassini, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory details the findings and posts pictures on its website.

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