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Titan's surface organics surpass oil reserves on Earth
SpaceRef.com ^ | February 13, 2008 | ESA

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.


TOPICS: Business/Economy; Front Page News; Miscellaneous; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: abiogenic; abiotic; cassini; hydrocarbons; iamstakingmyclaim; itismineallmine; thomasgold; titan
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1 posted on 02/13/2008 11:10:40 AM PST by Brian S. Fitzgerald
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To: Brian S. Fitzgerald

The pipeline is going to be a real bear, though.


2 posted on 02/13/2008 11:11:23 AM PST by Izzy Dunne (Hello, I'm a TAGLINE virus. Please help me spread by copying me into YOUR tag line.)
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To: NicknamedBob

Economic opportunity? Kudzu farm?


3 posted on 02/13/2008 11:11:37 AM PST by Tax-chick ("Good guy wins, bad guy gets dead. Nothing to cry over here." ~ trimom)
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To: Izzy Dunne

New line of Super Tankers Coming!


4 posted on 02/13/2008 11:12:22 AM PST by The Magical Mischief Tour
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To: Brian S. Fitzgerald

Wow just think of it, instead of $100 a barrel oil we can have $1 million dollar a barrel oil!!!


5 posted on 02/13/2008 11:13:25 AM PST by The Louiswu (Never Forget!)
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To: Tax-chick
There must have been a sh** load of dinosaurs and ancient plant life on Titan to have turned into all those hydrocarbons....

L

6 posted on 02/13/2008 11:13:40 AM PST by Lurker (Pimping my blog: http://lurkerslair-lurker.blogspot.com/)
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To: Brian S. Fitzgerald

Wasn’t the Nostromo a hydrocarbon processing ship?


7 posted on 02/13/2008 11:13:54 AM PST by Dreagon
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To: Brian S. Fitzgerald

So does this have any bearing on the debate about whether oil comes from dead plants and animals?


8 posted on 02/13/2008 11:14:37 AM PST by Minn (Here is a realistic picture of the prophet: ----> ([: {()
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To: Brian S. Fitzgerald

By the time we develop the technology to get there and bring it back we won’t need those hydrocarbons anymore.


9 posted on 02/13/2008 11:14:38 AM PST by xkaydet65
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To: Brian S. Fitzgerald

Don’t light a match!


10 posted on 02/13/2008 11:15:34 AM PST by Toskrin (Bringing you global cooling since 1999)
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To: Izzy Dunne

Ummmm. Stupid question. How exactly is it organic?


11 posted on 02/13/2008 11:15:39 AM PST by cizinec
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To: Brian S. Fitzgerald

Future Outland site.


12 posted on 02/13/2008 11:16:20 AM PST by edcoil (Go Great in 08 ... Slide into 09)
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To: Brian S. Fitzgerald

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.


13 posted on 02/13/2008 11:16:30 AM PST by Minn (Here is a realistic picture of the prophet: ----> ([: {()
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To: Brian S. Fitzgerald

We’ll be destroying the solar system.

No space exploration for oil. /s


14 posted on 02/13/2008 11:17:18 AM PST by A message
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To: Dreagon
Nostromo was a tug. It was hauling an oil refinery. From wikipedia:

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.

15 posted on 02/13/2008 11:17:47 AM PST by ClearCase_guy
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To: cizinec
Wikipedia - "Organic chemistry is a specific discipline within chemistry which involves the scientific study of the structure, properties, composition, reactions, and preparation (by synthesis or by other means) of chemical compounds consisting primarily of carbon and hydrogen, which may contain any number of other elements, including nitrogen, oxygen, the halogens as well as phosphorus, silicon and sulfur.

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.

16 posted on 02/13/2008 11:17:50 AM PST by Brian S. Fitzgerald ("We're going to drag that ship over the mountain.")
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To: Lurker

Yup ... until they were wiped out by the Titanian industrial revolution.


17 posted on 02/13/2008 11:18:02 AM PST by Tax-chick ("Good guy wins, bad guy gets dead. Nothing to cry over here." ~ trimom)
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To: Dreagon

I think this is some kind of attempt by a certain “alien” creature to lure us to Titan. I’m just sayin’.


18 posted on 02/13/2008 11:18:03 AM PST by liege
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To: Brian S. Fitzgerald

Where do I have to go to stake my claim on Titan?


19 posted on 02/13/2008 11:18:16 AM PST by Mad_Tom_Rackham (Elections have consequences.)
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To: Brian S. Fitzgerald

I’m sure Greenpeace is building a spacecraft as we speak.


20 posted on 02/13/2008 11:18:25 AM PST by william clark (DH4WH08 - Ecclesiastes 10:2)
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To: Brian S. Fitzgerald; KevinDavis

Let’s get a space convoy going.

Space ping


21 posted on 02/13/2008 11:18:57 AM PST by wastedyears (This is my BOOMSTICK)
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To: cizinec
How exactly is it organic?

Technically, anything based on carbon compounds is organic. Organic doesn't always have to refer to life, just the carbon. (old dictionaries still have it restricted to based on plants or animals, but the definition has been expanded.)

22 posted on 02/13/2008 11:19:30 AM PST by mnehring (Make your plans to fit the circumstances. - General George S. Patton, Jr)
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To: liege
All these worlds are your's......


23 posted on 02/13/2008 11:19:44 AM PST by squidly
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To: ClearCase_guy

From what series or realm does this vessel belong to?


24 posted on 02/13/2008 11:20:12 AM PST by wastedyears (This is my BOOMSTICK)
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To: Brian S. Fitzgerald
I suppose the next Jed Clampett will need a ray gun to be “shoot’n at some food,” huh?
25 posted on 02/13/2008 11:20:31 AM PST by afortiori
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To: Brian S. Fitzgerald

The Audobon society, which gets large revenues from oil wells on land it owns in Louisiana, will probably object to building a pipline or drilling there because it will destroy the environment. “Oil Drilling on our land and we get the money is good, drilling on others land and them getting the money is bad.”


26 posted on 02/13/2008 11:21:02 AM PST by GreyFriar ( 3rd Armored Division - Spearhead)
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To: cizinec

“How exactly is it organic?”

It’s not a stupid question. Any carbon based molecule is referred to as being “organic”. It does not mean it has to be from a living thing.


27 posted on 02/13/2008 11:21:23 AM PST by Hacklehead (Crush the liberals, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of the hippies.)
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To: Lurker

I was so hopeful to first to notice it...


28 posted on 02/13/2008 11:22:09 AM PST by alecqss
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To: cizinec

Good question.

“Organic” chemistry, and by extension the use of “organic compounds” as an expression for hydrocarbons is due to the importance of Carbon molecules in living organisms.

They’re not called organic because (for instance) they’re harvested from Chinese prisons and Coma victims, and then sold to the highest bidder. Though that would be cool.


29 posted on 02/13/2008 11:22:44 AM PST by agere_contra
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To: cizinec
How exactly is it organic?

Fair question: one of the definitions of "organic" is "relating to living matter".

As far as we know that doesn't apply here, and that's probably what led to your question.

But another definition of "organic" is "characterized by continuous or natural development".

That seems more appropriate.

30 posted on 02/13/2008 11:23:11 AM PST by Izzy Dunne (Hello, I'm a TAGLINE virus. Please help me spread by copying me into YOUR tag line.)
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To: wastedyears
From what series or realm does this vessel belong to?

The movie Alien.

It's an extraterriestrial organism of peace.

31 posted on 02/13/2008 11:24:52 AM PST by KarlInOhio (Rattenschadenfreude: joy at a Democrat's pain, especially Hillary's pain caused by Obama.)
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To: Brian S. Fitzgerald

Dinosaurs on Titan?

Or, my theory, hydrocarbons are the basic building block of the universe...


32 posted on 02/13/2008 11:24:55 AM PST by marron
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To: Minn

“So does this have any bearing on the debate about whether oil comes from dead plants and animals?”

Absofreakinlutley. This discovery would seem to prove it doesn’t have to.


33 posted on 02/13/2008 11:25:04 AM PST by Hacklehead (Crush the liberals, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of the hippies.)
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To: cizinec

Generally implies carbon chains and some benzene rings in the chemistry of the compounds found.


34 posted on 02/13/2008 11:25:28 AM PST by FreedomPoster (Guns themselves are fairly robust; their chief enemies are rust and politicians) (NRA)
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To: agere_contra
What’s all this talk about orgasmic chemistry? In my day, we never spoke openly...

Oh, never mind.

- Emily Latella

35 posted on 02/13/2008 11:25:35 AM PST by afortiori
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To: wastedyears
From what series or realm does this vessel belong to?

Fragmentary Clue - "In Space, No-one..."

36 posted on 02/13/2008 11:25:44 AM PST by agere_contra
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To: Brian S. Fitzgerald

They mustta had a alot of dinosaurs up there!


37 posted on 02/13/2008 11:26:44 AM PST by ChinaGotTheGoodsOnClinton (To those who believe the world was safer with Saddam, get treatment for that!)
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To: Brian S. Fitzgerald

AND Yet... no scientists are studing how the natural prodution of hydro carbons is possible.. So that WE can do it.. Might not need fusion if making hydro carbons were easily doable..


38 posted on 02/13/2008 11:26:51 AM PST by hosepipe (CAUTION: This propaganda is laced with hyperbole....)
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To: Brian S. Fitzgerald

If we had the technology to get there, we wouldn’t need oil.


39 posted on 02/13/2008 11:27:14 AM PST by mikeus_maximus ('92, '96', '00', '06: The GOP didn't listen, they're not listening still... perhaps they never will.)
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To: KarlInOhio
It's an extraterrestrial organism of peace.

LOL. And John Hurt was the first human to appease it.

40 posted on 02/13/2008 11:27:19 AM PST by agere_contra
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To: KarlInOhio

Ah

I haven’t watch Alien in a while.


41 posted on 02/13/2008 11:28:05 AM PST by wastedyears (This is my BOOMSTICK)
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To: wastedyears
Alien. Film by Ridley Scott. Lt. Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) eventually blows up the Nostromo in an effort to destroy the alien that had been inadvertantly picked up while responding to a distress beacon.

In the follow-up movie (Aliens), Ripley is put on trial for the senseless destruction of company property. A company employee (played by Paul Reiser) explains to Ripley that an M-class starfreighter "Is a very expensive piece of equipment".

42 posted on 02/13/2008 11:28:07 AM PST by ClearCase_guy
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To: Brian S. Fitzgerald

Cool!

Here’s what we do...

Fly out there with a gigantic rocket engine that will be powered by the moons hydrocarbons. Light it up, fly it to earth and park it in a geosynchronous orbit, then build the pipeline!


43 posted on 02/13/2008 11:28:17 AM PST by jt2
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To: agere_contra

“can hear you scream.”


44 posted on 02/13/2008 11:28:37 AM PST by wastedyears (This is my BOOMSTICK)
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To: A message
"We?ll be destroying the solar system. No space exploration for oil. /s"

Unfortunately, I don't think the sarcasm tag is fully accurate. There are greenies who would agree with your statement and concepts to trerraform Mars, for instance, have been met with criticism that we shouldn't be altering nature.

45 posted on 02/13/2008 11:28:43 AM PST by Truth29
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To: All
"...dramatic climate change on Titan is likely in its past, present and future..."

http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2008/2007GL032118.shtml Abstract

Cassini RADAR observations now permit an initial assessment of the inventory of two classes, presumed to be organic, of Titan surface materials: polar lake liquids and equatorial dune sands. Several hundred lakes or seas have been observed, of which dozens are each estimated to contain more hydrocarbon liquid than the entire known oil and gas reserves on Earth. Dark dunes cover some 20% of Titan's surface, and comprise a volume of material several hundred times larger than Earth's coal reserves. Overall, however, the identified surface inventories (>3 × 104 km3 of liquid, and >2 × 105 km3 of dune sands) are small compared with estimated photochemical production on Titan over the age of the solar system. The sand volume is too large to be accounted for simply by erosion in observed river channels or ejecta from observed impact craters. The lakes are adequate in extent to buffer atmospheric methane against photolysis in the short term, but do not contain enough methane to sustain the atmosphere over geologic time. Unless frequent resupply from the interior buffers this greenhouse gas at exactly the right rate, dramatic climate change on Titan is likely in its past, present and future.

Received 2 October 2007; accepted 26 November 2007; published 29 January 2008.

GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS, VOL. 35, L02206, doi:10.1029/2007GL032118, 2008

Titan's inventory of organic surface materials

Ralph D. Lorenz
Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Maryland, USA

Karl L. Mitchell
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, USA

Randolph L. Kirk
U.S. Geological Survey, Flagstaff, Arizona, USA

Alexander G. Hayes
Geological and Planetary Sciences, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, USA

Oded Aharonson
Geological and Planetary Sciences, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, USA

Howard A. Zebker
Departments of Geophysics and Electrical Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, California, USA

Phillipe Paillou
UMR 5804, Laboratorie d'Astrophysique de Bordeaux, Observatorie Aquitain des Sciences de l'Univers, Floirac, France

Jani Radebaugh
Department of Geological Sciences, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, USA

Jonathan I. Lunine
Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, USA

Michael A. Janssen
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, USA

Stephen D. Wall
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, USA

Rosaly M. Lopes
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, USA

Bryan Stiles
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, USA

Steve Ostro
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, USA

Giuseppe Mitri
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, USA

Ellen R. Stofan
Proxemy Research, Rectortown, Virginia, USA

Keywords: Titan; surface; organics.

Index Terms: 6281 Planetary Sciences: Solar System Objects: Titan; 5470 Planetary Sciences: Solid Surface Planets: Surface materials and properties; 5464 Planetary Sciences: Solid Surface Planets: Remote sensing; 5405 Planetary Sciences: Solid Surface Planets: Atmospheres (0343, 1060).

46 posted on 02/13/2008 11:29:10 AM PST by Brian S. Fitzgerald ("We're going to drag that ship over the mountain.")
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To: edcoil

That’s the first thing I thought. Send up Peter Boyle to run the place and Sean Connery to police it.


47 posted on 02/13/2008 11:29:53 AM PST by swain_forkbeard (Rationality may not be sufficient, but it is necessary.)
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To: jt2
Not exactly unthought of before. Seriously.

Behold: The Space Elevator.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_elevator

48 posted on 02/13/2008 11:31:02 AM PST by afortiori
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To: xkaydet65; Brian S. Fitzgerald
By the time we develop the technology to get there and bring it back we won’t need those hydrocarbons anymore.

We could use them on Mars, because it is deficient in hydrogen compared to the Earth.

49 posted on 02/13/2008 11:32:15 AM PST by Paleo Conservative
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To: cizinec
How exactly is it organic?

In chemistry, "organic" means a compound contains carbon plus other elements, especially hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen.

It's a historical thing.

50 posted on 02/13/2008 11:34:19 AM PST by poindexter
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