Skip to comments.Titan's surface organics surpass oil reserves on Earth
Posted on 02/13/2008 11:10:35 AM PST by Brian S. Fitzgerald
Saturn's orange moon Titan has hundreds of times more liquid hydrocarbons than all the known oil and natural gas reserves on Earth, according to new Cassini data. The hydrocarbons rain from the sky, collecting in vast deposits that form lakes and dunes.
The new findings from the study led by Ralph Lorenz, Cassini radar team member from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, USA, are reported in the 29 January 2008 issue of the Geophysical Research Letters.
"Titan is just covered in carbon-bearing material--it's a giant factory of organic chemicals," said Lorenz. "This vast carbon inventory is an important window into the geology and climate history of Titan."
At a balmy minus 179o C , Titan is a far cry from Earth. Instead of water, liquid hydrocarbons in the form of methane and ethane are present on the moon's surface, and tholins probably make up its dunes. The term 'tholins' was coined by Carl Sagan in 1979 to describe the complex organic molecules at the heart of prebiotic chemistry.
Cassini has mapped about 20% of Titan's surface with radar. Several hundred lakes and seas have been observed, with each of several dozen estimated to contain more hydrocarbon liquid than Earth's oil and gas reserves. The dark dunes that run along the equator contain a volume of organics several hundred times larger than Earth's coal reserves.
Proven reserves of natural gas on Earth total 130 thousand million tons, enough to provide 300 times the amount of energy the entire United States uses annually for residential heating, cooling and lighting. Dozens of Titan's lakes individually have the equivalent of at least this much energy in the form of methane and ethane.
"This global estimate is based mostly on views of the lakes in the northern polar regions. We have assumed the south might be similar, but we really don't yet know how much liquid is there," said Lorenz. Cassini's radar has observed the south polar region only once, and only two small lakes were visible. Future observations of that area are planned during Cassini's proposed extended mission.
Scientists estimated Titan's lake depth by making some general assumptions based on lakes on Earth. They took the average area and depth of lakes on Earth, taking into account the nearby surroundings, like mountains. On Earth, the lake depth is often 10 times less than the height of nearby terrain.
"We also know that some lakes are more than 10 m or so deep because they appear literally pitch-black to the radar. If they were shallow we'd see the bottom, and we don't," said Lorenz.
The question of how much liquid is on the surface is an important one because methane is a strong greenhouse gas on Titan as well as on Earth, but there is much more of it on Titan. If all the observed liquid on Titan is methane, it would only last a few million years, because as methane escapes into Titan's atmosphere, it breaks down and escapes into space. If the methane were to run out, Titan could become much colder. Scientists believe that methane might be supplied to the atmosphere by venting from the interior in cryovolcanic eruptions. If so, the amount of methane, and the temperature on Titan, may have fluctuated dramatically in Titan's past.
"We are carbon-based life, and understanding how far along the chain of complexity towards life that chemistry can go in an environment like Titan will be important in understanding the origins of life throughout the universe," added Lorenz.
Cassini's next radar flyby of Titan is on 22 February 2008, when the radar instrument will observe the landing site of ESA's Huygens probe.
The pipeline is going to be a real bear, though.
Economic opportunity? Kudzu farm?
New line of Super Tankers Coming!
Wow just think of it, instead of $100 a barrel oil we can have $1 million dollar a barrel oil!!!
Wasn’t the Nostromo a hydrocarbon processing ship?
So does this have any bearing on the debate about whether oil comes from dead plants and animals?
By the time we develop the technology to get there and bring it back we won’t need those hydrocarbons anymore.
Don’t light a match!
Ummmm. Stupid question. How exactly is it organic?
Future Outland site.
Wouldn’t Algore just love it if we started importing and burning carbon from other planets? It would almost be worth the trouble just to make him even more insane.
We’ll be destroying the solar system.
No space exploration for oil. /s
Commercial Towing Vessel Nostromo, an M-Class starfreighter property of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, is a tug, a towing vessel, hauling an enormous (some 1.5 miles in length) ore refinery and 20 million tons of raw ore, weighing many times the mass of the Nostromo.
The original definition of "organic" chemistry came from the misconception that organic compounds were always related to life processes. Not only organic compounds support life on Earth, as life as we know it also depends on inorganic chemistry; for example, many enzymes rely on transition metals such as iron and copper; and materials such as shells, teeth and bones are part organic, part inorganic in composition. Apart from elemental carbon, only with certain classes of carbon compounds such as oxides, carbonates, and carbides are conventionally considered inorganic. Biochemistry deals mainly with the natural chemistry of biomolecules such as proteins, nucleic acids, and sugars.
Yup ... until they were wiped out by the Titanian industrial revolution.
I think this is some kind of attempt by a certain “alien” creature to lure us to Titan. I’m just sayin’.
Where do I have to go to stake my claim on Titan?
I’m sure Greenpeace is building a spacecraft as we speak.
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