Titan Has More Oil Than Earth

Thanks to Phil Krause for this interesting Nasa article – Deskarati –

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 data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. The hydrocarbons rain from the sky, collecting in vast deposits that form lakes and dunes. The new findings are from the study led by Ralph Lorenz.

“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 179 degrees Celsius (minus 290 degrees Fahrenheit), 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 percent 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 billion 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.

More here NASA – Titan’s Surface Organics Surpass Oil Reserves on Earth.

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9 Responses to Titan Has More Oil Than Earth

  1. Phil Krause says:

    So how is oil and natural gas formed? If it’s from animal and plant life like we are told then either there is lots of life on Titan or it’s made differently here on Earth. There is one more solution.

  2. Steve B says:

    The title of this article is misleading. There is no oil as such on Titan. What Titan has is a wealth of liquid hydrocarbons, such as liquid methane (CH4) and ethane (C2H6). The tholins mentioned are probably formed by the irradiation of the aforementioned hydrocarbons by solar ultraviolet radiation.

  3. Deskarati says:

    Your quite right Steve, but the actual title by NASA is ‘Titan’s Surface Organics Surpass Oil Reserves on Earth’ which I don’t know is any better as presumably ‘organics’ refer to organisms, which is Phil’s point I presume?

  4. Steve B says:

    Organics actually refers to Organic Molecules, i.e. Carbon-based. The range of organic chemistry goes from the simplest, Methane (CH4) to the most complex proteins. So, I would suggest that there is no life/organisms on Titan, just a collection of Carbon-based molecules, i.e Organic. Oil and Natural Gas on Earth is formed by the decomposition and compression of Organisms.

    As I have often said on a Wednesday night, science and technology can only be productively discussed when the correct and agreed terminology is used. This is a good example.

  5. Deskarati says:

    Thanks Steve that is very helpful. But the terminology in this case is a little confusing don’t you think, as surely the word Organic originally referred to Organisms?

  6. Steve B says:

    No, Organic in the chemical sense has always been about carbon-based compounds. It is true that these compounds are to be found in nature, but that does not mean that they are necessarily involved with organisms.

    There was Methane on planet Earth long before any organisms appeared, so you suggestion that Organic Chemistry is to do with organisms is not strictly correct.

    Another example I can cite is Urea is a compound that is carbon-based ((NH2)2CO). It is produced by by many animals as part of their urine. It is also the first organic compound to be successfully synthesised from inorganic material, i.e. no organisms involved at all. Urea is still considered organic and is in fact the chemical that could be said to have launched the whole subject of organic chemistry.

    You can tell that I have more time on my hands these days can’t you?

  7. alfy says:

    Steve is right on the button here. “Organic” nowadays is a much bastardised word. In connection with chemistry it has always meant “the chemistry of the carbon compounds”. On chemistry courses, one attended lectures on “Organic Chemistry” and at other times, “Inorganic Chemistry” so the distinction was always clearly understood by those who knew anything about the subject.

    In a more general and less precisely defined sense, “organic” can mean “connected with living organisms”. For example, “there were deposits of organic sulphur”, meaning the sulphur was not from a volcanic source but from some kind of bacterium.
    In an even more general sense the word “organic” means “all working together harmoniously”, as in “The sun and planets form part of an organic whole as the solar system”.

    The term has some political use in food production, whereby some farms have a legal status as “organic producers” meaning they eschew the use of artificial fertilizers etc.

    Finally, “organic” has also come to mean “a product for which the producer can charge twice or three times the amount because the consumer is readily fooled by a meaningless description.”

    As you know, I think that precision in usage is very important, particularly in science. If you feel that words can mean whatever you choose them to mean, as in “Alice in Wonderland”, the foregoing will be lost on you.

    Keep up with the uphill work, Steve.

  8. Anonymous says:

    So now we all know what organic means, how did it all get on Titan?

  9. Deskarati says:

    Good question, over to Steve & Alfy – Deskarati specialists.

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