Friday, February 15, 2008

There Will Be Blood. . . IN SPACE. . . .

. . . Space . . . Space . . . Space. . . space. . .!*

It's long been known that Saturn's moon Titan has a huge amount of organic (carbon-based) chemicals, both in its dense atmosphere (twice as dense as Earth's) and in its frozen lakes of methane(recently photographed by the Huygens probe). Scientists believe that Titan's hydrocarbon content is very similar to that of Earth before the beginning of life, and thus that the moon-- which has been effectively "frozen" for billions of years-- provides a snapshot of our own world from ages past.

Big whoop.

Fortunately, Cassini-Huygens researcher has found an actual good reason to care about Titan: TAITEN HAZ TEH OILZ!!!1!1
Saturn's moon Titan has hundreds of times more liquid hydrocarbons than all the known oil and natural gas reserves on Earth, according to new data from the Cassini spacecraft.

The bounty of fuels, however, is on an orange-coloured moon at least 1.2 billion kilometres from Earth, a trip that took the Cassini spacecraft seven years to make.

Researchers from the European Space Agency first reported their findings about the ringed planet's moon in the journal of Geophysical Research Letters on Jan. 28.

Ralph Lorenz, Cassini radar team member from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, said the estimated fuel reserves are based on Cassini's surface maps of the moon, which show what appear to be lakes and seas. Researchers speculate the liquid is methane, one of the few known molecules to exist as a liquid in such extreme cold.

The scientists also believe dunes on the moon's surface are made of complex organic molecules called tholins.

"Titan is just covered in carbon-bearing material-it’s a giant factory of organic chemicals," said Lorenz in a statement. "This vast carbon inventory is an important window into the geology and climate history of Titan."

Although only 20 per cent of the moon's surface has been mapped, the researchers have already found dozens of lakes that individually could house as much energy as the 117,000 million tonnes of proven reserves of oil and gas on Earth.

"[Our] 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.

The dense haze of Titan's mostly nitrogen atmosphere had prevented earlier attempts to view the surface of the moon before the U.S. space probe Cassini first arrived in 2004. Radar is the only way to pierce the haze surrounding Titan, which has an atmosphere 10 times denser than Earth's.

The probe's next flyby of Titan is on Feb. 22, 2008, when it will observe the landing site of the ESA's Huygens probe, which landed on the moon's surface in 2004.

The combined Cassini-Huygens mission is a co-operative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. It first launched from Earth in 1997.

Titan's dense atmosphere and presence of carbon-based material have fascinated scientists who see it as a time vault of what Earth may have looked like billions of years ago, before life formed and introduced oxygen into the atmosphere.
As the article says, Titan is over a billion kilometers away(When? On closest approach? Furthest?) so there probably won't be any attempt to extract it. However, for the sake of balance-- actually, for the sake of my contract obligates me to climb my political soapbox at least once every three blogs-- let me just point out some of the stupid things that supposedly reasonable, advanced civilizations have done to get their hands on oil:

*As I wrote this, I found myself wondering if "Space" is really spelled like that.

Having been an astronomy and space travel nut my whole life, I now suddenly wondered why I had written a word that sounded like "Spa-kay" (Latinesque pronunciation). I actually had to look up the word "space" on Google to make sure it was spelled properly. Stupid foreign languages messing up my science!

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