Space

September 30, 2013

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft finds ingredient of household plastic in space

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has detected propylene, a chemical used to make food-storage containers, car bumpers and other consumer products, on Saturn’s moon Titan.

This is the first definitive detection of the plastic ingredient on any moon or planet, other than Earth.
A small amount of propylene was identified in Titan’s lower atmosphere by Cassini’s Composite Infrared Spectrometer. This instrument measures the infrared light, or heat radiation, emitted from Saturn and its moons in much the same way our hands feel the warmth of a fire.

Propylene is the first molecule to be discovered on Titan using CIRS. By isolating the same signal at various altitudes within the lower atmosphere, researchers identified the chemical with a high degree of confidence. Details are presented in a paper in the Sept. 30 edition of the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

“This chemical is all around us in everyday life, strung together in long chains to form a plastic called polypropylene,” said Conor Nixon, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and lead author of the paper. “That plastic container at the grocery store with the recycling code 5 on the bottom — that’s polypropylene.”

CIRS can identify a particular gas glowing in the lower layers of the atmosphere from its unique thermal fingerprint. The challenge is to isolate this one signature from the signals of all other gases around it.

The detection of the chemical fills in a mysterious gap in Titan observations that dates back to NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft and the first-ever close flyby of this moon in 1980.

Voyager identified many of the gases in Titan’s hazy brownish atmosphere as hydrocarbons, the chemicals that primarily make up petroleum and other fossil fuels on Earth.

On Titan, hydrocarbons form after sunlight breaks apart methane, the second-most plentiful gas in that atmosphere. The newly freed fragments can link up to form chains with two, three or more carbons. The family of chemicals with two carbons includes the flammable gas ethane. Propane, a common fuel for portable stoves, belongs to the three-carbon family.

Voyager detected all members of the one- and two-carbon families in Titan’s atmosphere. From the three-carbon family, the spacecraft found propane, the heaviest member, and propyne, one of the lightest members. But the middle chemicals, one of which is propylene, were missing.

As researchers continued to discover more and more chemicals in Titan’s atmosphere using ground- and space-based instruments, propylene was one that remained elusive. It was finally found as a result of more detailed analysis of the CIRS data.

“This measurement was very difficult to make because propylene’s weak signature is crowded by related chemicals with much stronger signals,” said Michael Flasar, Goddard scientist and principal investigator for CIRS. “This success boosts our confidence that we will find still more chemicals long hidden in Titan’s atmosphere.”

Cassini’s mass spectrometer, a device that looks at the composition of Titan’s atmosphere, had hinted earlier that propylene might be present in the upper atmosphere. However, a positive identification had not been made.

“I am always excited when scientists discover a molecule that has never been observed before in an atmosphere,” said Scott Edgington, Cassini’s deputy project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. “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.”

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The CIRS team is based at Goddard.




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

Headlines August 1, 2015

News: Marine F-35 jets deemed ready for combat – A small batch of the highly anticipated – and much criticized – F-35B Joint Strike Fighter jets have been approved for combat by the U.S. Marine Corps.   News: Reports: China to sell J-10 fighter to Iran, Syria? – Iran is rumored external link to be buying 150...
 
 

News Briefs August 3, 2015

Russian military helicopter crashes during air show, one dead A Russian military helicopter crashed Aug. 2 during an aerobatic display, killing one of its crewmembers and injuring another, the Defense Ministry said. The Mi-28 helicopter gunship was part of a flight of helicopters performing aerobatics at the Dubrovichi firing range in Ryazan region, about 170...
 
 
Army photograph by John Andrew Hamilton

Improved Multiple Launch Rocket System tested at White Sands Missile Range

Army photograph by John Andrew Hamilton A Multiple Launch Rocket System with an improved armored cab fires a training rocket during a test. The rockets were simple training rockets and not equipped with a warhead, but still gen...
 

 

Missile Defense Agency, Raytheon demonstrate SM-6’s new anti-ballistic missile defense capability

In a first-of-its-kind test, the U.S. Navy fired a Raytheon Standard Missile-6, intercepting and destroying a short-range ballistic missile target at sea. The successful U.S. Missile Defense Agency test proved a modified SM-6 can eliminate threat ballistic missiles in their final seconds of flight. “SM-6 is the only missile in the world that can do...
 
 

Northrop Grumman-developed stealthy data link validated as combat ready with U.S. Marine Corps

the U.S. Marine Corps achieving F-35B initial operating capability, the Multifunction Advanced Data Link waveform developed by Northrop Grumman has been proven a key combat-ready capability of the F-35 Lightning II program. MADL is a high-data-rate, directional communications link that allows fifth-generation aircraft to communicate and coordinate tactics covertly. During testing of the Lockhee...
 
 

Lockheed Martin technology helps pilots, UAS operators share data, stay safe

As Unmanned Aircraft Systems take to the skies, it is essential for safety that UAS operators and pilots are aware of each other. To help provide this shared situational awareness, Lockheed Martin has deployed the first components of a UAS traffic management system that is available to the UAS community now. Lockheed Martin’s online Flight...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>