NASA spies liquid in Titanic lake
Hydrocarbon fluids confirmed on Saturn moon
NASA scientists have announced that at least one of the giant lakes previously spied on Saturn's moon Titan contains liquid hydrocarbons - making it the "only body our solar system beyond Earth known to have liquid on its surface", as the agency puts it.
The lakes were identified by the Cassini spacecraft, and although scientists couldn't be sure they were liquid, "their dark appearance in radar indicates smoothness and their other properties point to the presence of liquids".
Investigators further suspected these features would be filled with methane, ethane and other light hydrocarbons, but Titan's hazy atmosphere - 95 per cent nitrogen and five per cent ethane, methane and other hydrocarbons - made confirmation difficult.
Back in December last year, though, Cassini used its visual and mapping instrument to cut through the atmospheric hydrocarbon smog and probe "chemically different materials based on the way they absorb and reflect infrared light" in the lake dubbed Ontario Lacus, lying in Titan's south polar region. The feature is roughly 7,800 square miles in area, "slightly larger than North America's Lake Ontario", NASA notes.
The resulting data showed that the lake contains liquid hydrocarbons, and certainly ethane. Larry Soderblom, a Cassini interdisciplinary scientist with the US Geological Survey, said: "Detection of liquid ethane confirms a long-held idea that lakes and seas filled with methane and ethane exist on Titan. The fact we could detect the ethane spectral signatures of the lake even when it was so dimly illuminated, and at a slanted viewing path through Titan's atmosphere, raises expectations for exciting future lake discoveries by our instrument."
NASA explains that the ethane is present in "a liquid solution with methane, other hydrocarbons and nitrogen". It adds: "At Titan's surface temperatures, approximately -300°F (-184°C), these substances can exist as both liquid and gas. Titan shows overwhelming evidence of evaporation, rain, and fluid-carved channels draining into what, in this case, is a liquid hydrocarbon lake."
Cassinin's obervations "also suggest the lake is evaporating", since it's "ringed by a dark beach, where the black lake merges with the bright shoreline". The spacecraft "also observed a shelf and beach being exposed as the lake evaporates".
Soderblom concluded: "During the next few years, the vast array of lakes and seas on Titan's north pole mapped with Cassini's radar instrument will emerge from polar darkness into sunlight, giving the infrared instrument rich opportunities to watch for seasonal changes of Titan's lakes." ®
send for Troy Tempest !
or failing that, use those black holes we're about to start creating - charge 'em up,
shove 'em out to Titan & adjust its orbit so it spirals in close, we end up with a 2nd moon so we get to save on energy for street lighting as well
Oil not from biological decay
You've seen too many commercials. Yes, coal comes from decayed biomass. Coal deposits are not oil deposits. Coal contains a very high proportion of carbon. That's why its stable, and also why coal fires don't automatically consume all coal reserves. It needs O2.
Oil is a complex substance that comes from a different reaction. Take carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, bury it deep, apply heat, catalytic reactions. It could be coal, but more likely, it is stuff like calcium carbonate and other trapped ocean sediments, which may be in biomass, or may not be. Maybe mix in radioactive decay to convert trapped some of the trapped hydrogen into helium, and in time, with luck, you may have oil.
However, the hydrocarbons on Titan are much simpler molecules like CH4 (that's cow farts to you 3rd graders out there). In space, this is most likely comet material, trapped in a 95% nitrogen-based roach motel so it can't get out. Unless you trap this under a lot of weight and heat, it'll never be oil as we know it. With a nitrogen atmosphere, you can be reasonably sure that there is a level of equilibrium here that provides a CH4-based weather cycle. (gaseous CH4 is lighter than N2)
OK, I'll be the boring one...
...and remind everyone that by the time you get out of Earth's gravity well, your profit will have gone. Even if the Moon were covered with pure gold nuggets, it could not be made profitable to bring them to Earth with today's technology. As for Titan, our travels there are solely for the pursuit of scientific knowledge (which is beyond price). There is nothing in existence that is expensive enough to make it profitable to go to Titan to get it.
Unless... Maybe I'm just not thinking big enough. Maybe I don't have the vision or the necessary experience for this. Maybe I, and everyone else, are just too far from the action. Maybe if we took a a man who started out as a mere scion of a major US business family, worked his way through the oil industry, and finally became president, maybe if we sent *him* to Titan, he could put his talents to work on the resources there and reap his just reward. Go to it, GWB! The world is not enough!