Scientists Just Discovered a Key Plastic Ingredient - In Space

By Mario Aguilar on at

NASA's Cassini spacecraft just detected propylene on Saturn's moon Titan. You might recognize the name of the chemical as part of polypropylene, the material that the food storage containers in your cupboard are probably made of. It's the first time that the plastic ingredient has ever been observed anywhere other than Earth.

Besides being a remarkable discovery in the greater context of space, the finding, published the most recent issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters, also marks the first chemical discovery observed by the Cassini Saturn orbiter's composite infrared spectrometer.

Other NASA spacecraft had observed many chemicals on Titan before, but until now, they'd been unable to pin down propylene, which they had expected to find given that Titan's atmosphere has a very high concentration of methane. On Earth, as on Titan, propylene is produced when we break down hydrocarbons like methane, which you may know by its slightly more common name - natural gas.

It's proud day for the scientific community, and the culmination of a lot of hard work. More importantly, it's brought us one important step closer to our Space Tupperware future. [NASA]