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Cassini Probes Finds Plastic on Titan


The NASA Cassini spacecraft has found propylene, a chemical used in the boxes that store food and other consumer products, on Titan, one of Saturn's moons (the largest). This is the first identification of plastic on a Moon or a Planet outside the Earth. The small amount of propylene has been identified in the lower atmosphere of Titan by the instrument CIRS (Composite Infrared Spectrometer), an infrared ray instrument that can measure the heat emitted by Saturn and its Moons.


Propylene is the first molecule to be discovered on Titan using CIRS, as stated in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. This finding answers to a mystery that dates back to the observations of the Voyager 1 spacecraft in the eighties. Voyager had identified in the atmosphere of Titan's hazy brownish-many hydrocarbons, chemicals that make up mainly oil and other fossil fuels on Earth. On Titan, the hydrocarbons are formed after the light of the sun has broken the methane, the second most abundant gas in the atmosphere. The fragments just freed can connect up to form chains with two, three or more carbon atoms. The family of chemicals with two carbon atoms includes the ethane and propane that of three, the member heavier, and propyne, one of the lighter components. But the intermediate chemicals, including propylene, were missing so far.

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