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'Plastic' Found On Saturn Moon Titan
Scientists have discovered an ingredient of plastic on one of Saturn's moons - the first time the material has been detected on another world.
Nasa's Cassini spacecraft made the remarkable discovery using its infrared spectrometer that can 'feel' heat radiation the same way our hands feel warmth from a fire.
Every chemical has a unique thermal fingerprint and Cassini's spectrometer has isolated traces of propylene - the same chemical used to make food containers - in the lower levels of Titan's atmosphere.
Although it was previously suspected propylene might be present on Titan this is the first time scientists have confirmed its existence with a measure of certainty.
Researchers say the discovery is the missing link in Titan observations that date back to Nasa's Voyager 1 space probe which passed Saturn's moon in 1980.
Back then, Voyager discovered many of Titan's gases were hydrocarbons such as propane and propyne. But the middle chemical propylene has remained the elusive element until now.
Nasa scientist Scott Edgington said: "I am always excited when scientists discover a molecule that has never been observed before in an atmosphere.
"This new piece of the puzzle will provide an additional test of how well we understand the chemical zoo that makes up Titan's atmosphere."
Nasa's infrared spectrometer investigator Michael Flasar said: "This measurement was very difficult to make because propylene's weak signature is crowded by related chemicals with much stronger signals.
"This success boosts our confidence that we will find still more chemicals long hidden in Titan's atmosphere."
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a co-operative project of Nasa, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency managed by Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.