Household plastic ingredient spotted in space

The Cassini spacecraft detects propylene, a chemical used to make everything from plastic bags to lab equipment, on Saturn's moon Titan.

Animation of the Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/ Screenshot by CNET

Ready for some -- literally -- out of this world plastic? A chemical commonly used to make everything from food-storage containers to car bumpers has been detected on one of Saturn's moons.

NASA revealed Monday that the Cassini spacecraft detected propylene, a chemical ingredient of plastic, on Saturn's moon Titan. This is the first definitive detection of the chemical on any planet or moon, other than Earth, NASA said.

"This chemical is all around us in everyday life, strung together in long chains to form a plastic called polypropylene," Conor Nixon, a planetary scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a statement. "That plastic container at the grocery store with the recycling code 5 on the bottom -- that's polypropylene."

Cassini was able to spot a small amount of propylene in Titan's lower atmosphere using its Composite Infrared Spectrometer (CIRS), an instrument that measures infrared light and can "identify a particular gas glowing in the lower layers of the atmosphere from its unique thermal fingerprint."

Propylene is the first molecule to be discovered on Titan using CIRS, NASA said, but it likely won't be the last.

"This success boosts our confidence that we will find still more chemicals long hidden in Titan's atmosphere," Michael Flasar, Goddard scientist and principal investigator for CIRS, said in a statement.

Find out more about propylene on Titan in the NASA video below:


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