Perhaps the worlds beyond Earth aren’t so alien after all. Last week, Curiosity found water on Mars and, this week, NASA scientists announced that the Cassini spacecraft has detected propylene, an ingredient in common household plastics, on Saturn’s moon Titan.
"This chemical is all around us in everyday life, strung together in long chains to form a plastic called polypropylene,” said Conor Nixon, lead author of the paper and a NASA Goddard Space Flight Center scientist. "That plastic container at the grocery store with the recycling code 5 on the bottom - that’s polypropylene.”
This is the first discovery of a plastic ingredient anywhere other than Earth. It also adds to the list of reasons why Titan is similar to Earth, which includes twin nitrogen-rich atmospheres.
If you live in North America, be sure to wave toward the eastern horizon today starting at 5:27 p.m. EDT. For 15 minutes, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft will be taking a picture of Saturn and its rings.
Why then, you may ask, should you be waving your hand at the sky? Because Cassini is in position to take its picture of Saturn while the sun backlights it to get a great shot of the rings—and Earth, with North America facing the outer planet and the spacecraft’s camera at that time, is going to photobomb it.
"The main science goal for the mosaic we are making of the Saturn system is to look at the more diffuse rings that encircle Saturn and check for change over time," writes Linda Spilker, NASA’s Cassini project scientist. "But one of the best parts of the mosaic we’re making on July 19 is that we’ll be able to take a picture of Earth – and all of you — from about 898 million miles (1.44 billion kilometers) away."