Plastic is a world traveler here on Earth, with trash often making it to the most remote shores of Pacific Ocean islands. Now, NASA scientists have discovered propylene–the chemical used to make everything from Tupperware to car bumpers–ever further away, in outer space.
Infrared detection instruments of space agency’s Cassini spacecraft have detected a gaseous form of the chemical in the smoggy, orangey atmosphere of Titan, the moon of Saturn. “This is the first definitive detection of the plastic ingredient on any moon or planet, other than Earth,” NASA said in a statement released on Monday (just prior to the shutdown of the federal government).
The chemical is not the result of human pollution, to be clear. It is naturally occurring in the strange environment of Titan, where temperatures reach more than -200 degrees F and the atmosphere rains liquid methane. In fact, scientists were out hunting for it ever since the Voyager 1 had found similar three-carbon molecules and realized that propylene was strangely missing from its measurements. Who knew Tupperware could be this exotic?
You can watch a video illustrating Titan’s weird world and how propylene is formed above.