Feeds

Boffin: Titan moon largely made of LPG, not cheese

Patio-heater paradise in the outer solar system

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

An American scientist believes he may have come up with an explanation for the curious lakes of liquefied petroleum gas found at the polar regions of Titan, moon of Saturn. It could be because Titan is not spherical, but has a liquid layer which is.

A Cassini image of the polar hydrocarbon lakes of Titan

The LPG fields of the Saturnian moons: rich, but inaccessible.

"Since the poles are squished in with respect to the equator, if there is a hydrocarbon 'water table' that is more or less spherical in shape, then the poles would be closer down to that water table and depressions at the poles would fill up with liquid," says Howard Zebker of Stanford Uni.

The surface temperature on Titan, far from the sun in the chilly outer reaches of the solar system, is a bracing -180°C. Most things which are liquid on Earth are frozen there, but propane - a primary constituent of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), the Earthly vehicle and heating fuel - is still runny. Methane and ethane, also popular as fuel among the human race, can exist both frozen and as liquids on Titan. If the Stanford geophysicist's theory is correct, vast underground oceans of liquefied-gas fuel lie below the moon's frozen surface - showing just a little at the low-lying poles.

Zebker's new research involves the use of radar measurements from the Cassini space probe, now orbiting Saturn, to map the shape of Titan's surface. This has been difficult to achieve thus far owing to the moon's unusual, dense nitrogen atmosphere.

According to Zebker's Cassini analysis, not only does Titan have squashed-in poles, it is also elongated in the direction of Saturn. On top of that, its mountaintops are usually lower than the surrounding terrain.

Zebker thinks that this last might be because the mountains are made of ice, which is heavier than the other surface materials on the Saturnian moon - frozen ethane, methane and such. The hefty iceberg mountains naturally tend to sink down into basins created by their own weight.

The moon-mapper cautions that other boffins are hard at work researching Titan's gravity field, until now poorly understood. He says that their results, combined with his, will probably offer a better picture of what's really going on with the mysterious moon. He also suggests that there may be "active geophysical processes occurring inside Titan that further distort the shape".

There's more layman-level stuff from Stanford Uni here, or subscribers to the journal Science can take their hard sums straight up here. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
MARS NEEDS WOMEN, claims NASA pseudo 'naut: They eat less
'Some might find this idea offensive' boffin admits
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
America's super-secret X-37B plane returns to Earth after nearly TWO YEARS aloft
674 days in space for US Air Force's mystery orbital vehicle
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
Origins of SEXUAL INTERCOURSE fished out of SCOTTISH LAKE
Fossil find proves it first happened 385 million years ago
Human spacecraft dodge COMET CHUNKS pelting off Mars
Odyssey orbiter yet to report, though - comet's trailing trash poses new threat
You can crunch it all you like, but the answer is NOT always in the data
Hear that, 'data journalists'? Our analytics prof holds forth
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.