New Find on Moon of Saturn: Plastic

Or at least a molecule used to make it
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 1, 2013 6:57 PM CDT
New Find on Moon of Saturn: Plastic
This undated image provided by NASA shows Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.   (AP Photo/NASA)

Earth and Saturn now have something in common: plastic. NASA's Cassini spacecraft detected the molecule propylene on Saturn's moon Titan, and propylene is one of the basic ingredients of modern plastic here on Earth, reports the BBC. It's the first extraterrestrial plastic ingredient ever found, reports NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which uses this quote from one of its scientists to help mere mortals grasp the discovery: "This chemical is all around us in everyday life, strung together in long chains to form a plastic called polypropylene. That plastic container at the grocery store with the recycling code 5 on the bottom—that's polypropylene."

So is this a stunning discovery? Far from it, explains Pacific Standard. Propylene is a hydrocarbon, and scientists have long known that Titan is teeming with other hydrocarbons such as methane and propane. "Propylene was actually something scientists expected to find since its chemical kissing cousins were already known to be present," writes Michael Todd. And, sorry, entrepreneurs, Wired shoots a hole in your ambitious plan to zip over to Saturn to harvest the stuff. Not only would that probably violate international treaties set up to protect other worlds, but "fossil fuels are also likely to remain relatively cheap, plentiful, and easy enough to access for many years that space-based extraction of them will remain laughable," writes Adam Mann. (For a more Earth-bound NASA development, click to see its image of newborn island off Pakistan.)

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