Polymers in Space
The Cassini was launched in 1997 to study Saturn and its moons. It contains a battery of scientific instruments that have been sending back data about the Saturn system since 2004.
Reported by BBC News, Cassini recently sent back information that it detected on Saturn’s moon, Titan, propene or propylene – a building block of POLYPROPYLENE – a commonly used plastic. What makes this discovery special is that it is the first time this constituent of polypropylene has been found anywhere outside of Earth.
On Earth, this molecule, which comprises three carbon atoms and six hydrogen atoms, is a constituent of many plastics.
It is the first definitive detection of the plastic ingredient on any moon or planet, other than our home world, says the US space agency.
Other interesting chemicals detected on Titan include propane, and ethylene – a constituent of another common polymer – polyethylene.
This is only part of the chemical story. NASA scientists hypothesize that Saturn’s huge magnetic field and the effects of the sun’s ultra-violet light may yield more exotic chemistry on Titan and Saturn’s other moons.