NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has detected propylene, a key ingredient in plastics, on Saturn’s moon Titan.
This is the first time the chemical has been definitively found on any moon or planet, other than Earth. The discovery fills in what NASA called a “mysterious gap” in scientists’ knowledge of the makeup of Titan’s atmosphere and gives them confidence that there are more chemicals there still to discover.
Propylene is an ingredient in many consumer plastic products like car bumpers and food storage containers.
The interest lies in the small amount of propylene that was discovered in Titan’s lower atmosphere by one of Cassini’s scientific instruments called the the composite infrared spectrometer (CIRS), which measures the infrared light, or heat radiation, emitted from Saturn and its moons.
The instrument can detect a particular gas, like propylene, by its thermal markers, which are unique like a human fingerprint.
Scientists have a high level of confidence in their discovery, according to NASA.