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Space The Almighty Buck

Titan's Organics Surpass Oil Reserves on Earth 555

Posted by samzenpus
from the black-gold-titan-tea dept.
jcgam69 writes "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."
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Titan's Organics Surpass Oil Reserves on Earth

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  • All we need now (Score:4, Interesting)

    by treeves (963993) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @10:48PM (#22415174) Homepage Journal
    are some vast hydrocarbon-propelled rockets to bring a big load of it back here in 10 years or so.
  • so.... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by JeanBaptiste (537955) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @10:52PM (#22415238)
    if all our stuff supposedly came from dead dinosaurs, what does this mean?
  • by Marc_Hawke (130338) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @10:52PM (#22415248)
    Aren't the hydrocarbons on earth (oil, coal, etc) the remains of LIFE? They've always been called 'fossil fuels.' We're burning dinosaurs.

    So...where did these big extra-terrestrial reserves come from?

    (Simple answer would be, "That's not the only way hydro-carbons form" but I've never heard that mentioned before.)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @11:00PM (#22415356)
    But we don't want hydrocarbons; we want energy. Do you plan to ship oxygen to Titan? Or bring the stuff here and put even more carbon in our atmosphere?

    If you're searching the solar system for cheap energy, Mercury is your spot. We should do all our heavy industry, including our supercomputing, in factories buried under the surface or Mercury. Forget sending men to Mars; that's another "Mission Accomplished"-style photo op.
  • Re:pointless (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @11:05PM (#22415438)

    tree huggers
    Wow dude, the Arctic ocean will be free of summer ice by 2013 and you're still calling environmentalists "tree huggers"?
  • Re:Mars? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jugalator (259273) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @11:06PM (#22415456) Journal
    I agree, it seriously pisses me off to see the long term plans being sketched up for a return to Moon, and then out to Mars. The budget that will end up comparably quite small to other US gov't agencies, but huge for NASA. When what I think what would be far more exciting, and with much more of an impact potential, would be to send out a probe to Enceladus [wikipedia.org] and Europa [wikipedia.org]. Both quite potential candidates for having oceans of liquid water beneath due to tidal heating from the extreme gravitational pull of their respective giant planets.

    With how things are moving and how poorly NASA, ESA, and others first prioritized the ISS mission and now this thing to Mars where people will take a stroll and perhaps not find that much more than what the current rovers are finding (although yes, it will make a huge media impact for a week or so, or maybe even a month, before it disappears into the back of peoples' minds), I have low expectations on that I'll even be alive by the time we get to those moons perhaps harboring life, despite we probably having the technology for the job today!

    We have identified water ice on the surface of Enceladus, we have strong support of there being active water volcanism there similar to Earth's geysers, we know not much sunlight is needed to pass through the surface to harbor life judging by extremophiles on Earth, and if there is water beneath, there'd be more water there than on Earth! Yet, we try to hunt water on Mars by theories so hard that we're to the brink of seeing what we want to see, and design a gargantuan long term exploration effort to go there. *sigh*
  • by tempestdata (457317) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @11:13PM (#22415530)

    Hrm... It would be interesting if the cost of harvesting it outweighted the investment to build the infostructure to bring it back to our planet.
    Even if bringing back those hydrocarbons to Earth was cost effective. I'm not sure it would be a good Thing.

    I've always drawn solace from the fact that eventually oil will run out and we'll stop pumping smog into the air. Can you imagine if we were not suddenly able to pump hundreds of times that amount into the air before we ran out?? Holy smokes!

    On the other hand, it would also be such an awesome thing for investment in science and space travel. If some portion of the extraction process needed human oversight, it would be an awesome thing for manned space travel. The building of the infrastructure, to support the mining of Titan itself would really be a milestone in human history. The point at which man kind ceased to harness the resources of his own planet, and started to harness the resources of his solar system. If infrastructure were built to mine Titan, it would make sense to resuse a large chunk of it to mine the asteroids too. The possibilities boggle the mind.

    Would it be worth it though?
  • by Vectronic (1221470) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @11:51PM (#22415886)
    This is basically Offtopic, but harvesting anything from the moon (He3) seems inherintly dangerous given the whole mass/gravity thing, you'd be playing around with the whole tidal system, messing with countless amounts of animals brains(including our own) and navigation "systems"... plus factoring in things like the impact of landing, and taking off...

    "Uhh... Sir? We seemed to have caused the moon to break free from Earth orbit"

    "No time to worry about that, we have bigger fish to fry! all the sea life is dying"

    Im fairly confident that the earth is relatively impervious to our existance (in that it will still rotate, and life will still exist, including our own species) if all we are doing is basically dissorganizing materials in our little bubble... but messing with the moon, kinda scary...

    Sure there is the arguement that *however many* tons of debris lands on the earth and moon every day, its sort of a natural distibution based partly on chaos, and partly on gravity... but we always do things in an ordered fashion...with general disregard for what it may effect... carving "CHA" into the moon... Sponsered by Ikea... then wondering why grass refuses to seed anymore...
  • by algaeman (600564) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @11:56PM (#22415932)
    These hydrocarbons are most likely formed by high pressures in a strongly reducing environment. These are, in fact, the conditions that existed in our general vicinity 4 billion years ago. At that time, a runaway chemical reaction occurred, which eventually produced extremely long-chained organics, like DNA, cellulose, chlorophyll and bile. It is the decomposition products of these materials under high pressure and temperature that produce fossil fuels. These are larger organics (eg octane- with eight carbons) than you would expect to find in a place like Titan.
  • Re:Mars? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Orange Crush (934731) * on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @11:57PM (#22415948)
    The hard part with taking that view, is that we have yet to pinpoint an exact set of conditions or timeframe when abiogenesis occurred on Earth--if it even happened here at all. It's quite possible that living examples of (terrestrial) extremophiles would be quite comfortable in certain spots on Mars, Europa, maybe even Titan . . . but we've barely gotten a comprehensive idea of the conditions on those worlds *right now*, much less how they might've been billions or even millions of years in the past.
  • by Dun Malg (230075) on Thursday February 14, 2008 @12:01AM (#22415982) Homepage

    Aren't the hydrocarbons on earth (oil, coal, etc) the remains of LIFE?
    The biogenic oil theory is from the 18th century--- Mikhail Lomonosov, in 1757 to be exact--- when no one could imagine any other way traces of organic matter could have gotten into something that came from such a deep, hot, inhospitable place. Extremophile life has been confirmed in even more inhospitable places since then. Most of the objections to abiogenic oil theory have been specific objections the various formation theories. The presence of that much "organic" hydrocarbon material on Titan, raises an interesting question: are abiogenic hydrocarbons just plentiful in the universe, or was titan crawling with organic life? Personally, I don't think much of the latter...
  • by rah1420 (234198) <rah1420@gmail.com> on Thursday February 14, 2008 @12:05AM (#22416020)
    ... that Arthur C. Clarke "discovered" that Titan has vast reserves of hydrocarbon [wikipedia.org] way back in 1976.
  • Fuel for probes (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Dan East (318230) on Thursday February 14, 2008 @12:09AM (#22416042) Homepage Journal
    Can these compounds be used as fuel with little or no processing? I can envision a probe burrowing and rolling and sliding around the moon's surface, enjoying an unlimited supply of power by sucking in some fuel whenever it needs it. The extremely cold temperatures don't sound as daunting when unlimited energy is available.
  • Ok, rather fundamentally, lifting the oil out of Titan's atmosphere and shipping it back here would almost certainly require more energy then could be obtained from burning the hydrocarbons.

    For this amount of cost, we could easily just build solar power satellites and beam it down with Masers.

  • And... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Goonie (8651) <robert.merkel@benamb r a . org> on Thursday February 14, 2008 @12:17AM (#22416118) Homepage
    The vast majority of our hydrocarbon usage is for energy. Plastic, fertilizer, chemicals, and so forth are essentially lost in the noise. Furthermore, we can make virtually any hydrocarbon that we want out of coal, which is not running out any time soon despite what the nuttier peak oilers sometimes claim.
  • Re:Fuel for probes (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dunbal (464142) on Thursday February 14, 2008 @12:22AM (#22416162)
    I can envision a probe burrowing and rolling and sliding around the moon's surface, enjoying an unlimited supply of power by sucking in some fuel whenever it needs it.

          All those hydrocarbons are completely useless if you don't have an oxidizer. When we combust (here on Earth) we take the atmospheric oxygen for granted despite it being an essential part of the equation. However if there is no oxygen all those hydrocarbons are completely useless to your probe. The limiting factor now becomes how big an oxygen tank you can carry...
  • Re:Mars? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PieSquared (867490) <isosceles2006&gmail,com> on Thursday February 14, 2008 @12:37AM (#22416316)
    I'm confused. Why exactly would you want to send someone to Europa or Titan? There's nothing there at all that needs a human to see it... and NASA still has plenty of budget left over to send rovers with lots of camera to both. No reason why you can't move the human space program to mars and push the robotic portion further into the solar system, to places we haven't ruled out for life, yet.

    Mars (and to a lesser extent the moon) however, do hold the long-term promise of harboring self-sustained *human* life. While it would be an Epic project the likes of which has never been done, with complications we can't even realize yet... it would be relatively easy to terraform mars as compared to a rock further from the sun. Send everything to mars on a long route with solar sails and then use them to build huge mirrors to lengthen the days and increase heat. Start processing the regolith and non-water ice to make an atmosphere, and then start air-braking ice comets in the thickening atmosphere to add heat, hydrogen, oxygen, and water. Introduce some of the antarctic and bio-engineered bacteria.

    It might take enormous effort for centuries and it'll certainly take a decade of research into closed biological systems to figure out how to build a biosphere from the ground up, but there's a *reason* to send man to mars. Europa, though? It's an ice ball. About all it has going for it is liquid water and possibly a heated core. It'll be very interesting if we find life there, but the surface is soaked in radiation and too far from the sun to be interesting as a habitat, and if we're going to live underground there's no reason to prefer it over any other large rock.

    With a thick atmosphere and a surplus of mirrors we might eventually make one of Saturn's moons habitable, but the lower solar flux just makes it a less desirable position that would require more work then mars. Smaller surface, too.
  • Re:All we need now (Score:5, Interesting)

    by anagama (611277) <obamaisaneocon@nothingchanged.org> on Thursday February 14, 2008 @12:49AM (#22416424) Homepage
    No, I'm thinking of corn ethanol, backed by tax dollars to hide the fact that AT BEST, it produces 10% more fuel than is used in the production of it. Reality is probably much lower than the our friendly lobbyists from Iowa would have us believe.
  • Re:All we need now (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Buzz_Litebeer (539463) on Thursday February 14, 2008 @01:05AM (#22416528) Journal


    Actually the book Empire (I think thats the name) by Arthur C Clarke actually involved humans from earth mining Titan, the earth would send empty pods at Titan, and the people on Titan (miners) would send the pods back full of fuel.

    14 year round trip, but once the "stream" of fuel pods starts coming it becomes a steady source of fuel.
  • by Lazarian (906722) on Thursday February 14, 2008 @01:35AM (#22416710)
    Granted, having hydrocarbons way out on Titan is pretty useless to us on Earth in regards as a fuel source. But they can be useful where they're at as fuel or feedstocks for making polymers in the same way we do here. Most plastics are made in some way from oil, and if we ever get to the point of establishing some sort of station or colony around Saturn, we now know of huge resources available there. If there is a source of oxygen that can be tapped around Saturn (say from ice on the other moons, or even Titan itself), those could be used as convenient fuel sources that can be used locally around Saturn. I'd like to think that if we ever get to having some colonization around Saturn, we'd be done with burning oil here for energy, and use whatever oil that's left for making plastics and other products. Besides, taking hydrocarbons from another moon and bringing them here to burn for energy would be totally uneconomical, as well as adding an off-planet carbon load on our atmosphere.
  • Re:All we need now (Score:4, Interesting)

    by weighn (578357) <weighnNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday February 14, 2008 @01:52AM (#22416826) Homepage

    ... corn ethanol, backed by tax dollars to hide the fact that AT BEST, it produces 10% more fuel than is used in the production of it...
    to add to that, growing stuff for fuel pushes up the price of food - in countries where many are already hungry this is not good. As if enough of the 3rd world hadn't already supplanted food crops with tobacco and coffee ...
  • Re:Mars? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by AKAImBatman (238306) <akaimbatman@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Thursday February 14, 2008 @02:02AM (#22416880) Homepage Journal
    More like 60%. Nitrogen is another 30%. Not for us directly, but for our food supplies which we will grow in these alien soils. The other 10% is the various misc. materials. (Most of which can be found relatively easily.) Once the Nitrogen and water problems are solved, the biggest issue is how to approach the bootstrapping of a colony. Doing something simple like making glass or steel is nigh impossible without the infrastructure to support it. And can we really afford to be shipping an entire infrastructure for the kind of high-tech materials fabrication that life on an alien planet would require?

    I hope that the opportunity to visit other planets arrives in my lifetime. It's just a bit sobering when you realize the obstacles that face permanent human presence outside of Earth's biosphere.
  • Re:Mars? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TheLink (130905) on Thursday February 14, 2008 @02:19AM (#22416986) Journal
    why should we send humans to Mars in the near future?

    Wouldn't it be better to spend a smaller amount of money to figure out how to build better space stations?

    Without faster than light travel if humans are heading anywhere beyond the moon, they are going to be spending a LOT of time in space.

    So we should work on making better space stations than the current _crap_ we have. Dig out some of those "old" designs which spin to create artificial gravity or make much better ones.

    I personally don't think Mars will be that attractive once you've worked out how to build good space stations. The asteroids belt will be useful, and I suppose other cheap places for extracting resources to supply a space colony with. Mars is not cheap - once you land, getting back out is hard.

    The Romans had gladiators and circuses to distract them from real problems.

    Perhaps people are happy to pay for _extremely_ expensive suicide missions, that'll be a candidate for reality TV I guess.
  • Re:Mars? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by pcgabe (712924) on Thursday February 14, 2008 @03:22AM (#22417284) Homepage Journal

    While it would be an Epic project the likes of which has never been done, with complications we can't even realize yet... it would be relatively easy to terraform mars as compared to a rock further from the sun.
    Mars will never be terraformed. Ever. Let it go.

    Relatively easy? It doesn't have enough mass -> it doesn't have enough gravity -> it can't hold an atmosphere we can use. But we can just keep smashing meteors into, right?

    Let's say we had the technology to move planets (because that's the order of difficulty we're talking about). Even if we could move enough matter together, we still can't terraform Mars. Do you know why? MARS HAS NO EFFECTIVE MAGNETOSPHERE!

    The core of Mars is cold. It has no active swirling iron core like we enjoy here on Earth. No active core -> No effective magnetosphere. But what do we need that for, anyway?

    Quote Wikipedia: [wikipedia.org]

    Mars is larger than Mercury and four times farther from the sun, and yet even here it is thought that the solar wind has stripped away up to a third of its original atmosphere, leaving a layer 100 times thinner than the Earth's.
    Even if you did get enough mass to hold an atmosphere, and enough atmosphere to be habitable (which would need to be MORE than we have here on Earth, due to the increased distance from the sun), the lack of a strong magnetosphere would allow the solar wind to strip it away again. Oh, and all that deadly radiation.

    Mars. Will. NEVER. Be. Terraformed.
  • by javilon (99157) on Thursday February 14, 2008 @06:23AM (#22418058) Homepage
    Yes, you could use ice as an oxygen source, but you need energy to separate the oxygen from the hydrogen, and you know what? when you burn your fuel you get less energy than what you used to process the ice. In fact, you could just burn the resulting hydrogen as well, taking fuel out of the equation.
  • Re:Mars? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by KnowledgeKeeper (1026242) on Thursday February 14, 2008 @06:47AM (#22418158)
    Mars. Will. NEVER. Be. Terraformed.

    Don't be so negative and pessimistic. No gravity? Big deal, we need to invent a gravity/antigravity machine and implant it into the Mars' core.

    No magnetosphere? Also, a bit of ingenuity never hurt anyone. Just put two satellites with magnetic cores into orbit around the planet.

    This way we could "fix" Venus, too. We just need time, money, dedication and education.
  • by WhiplashII (542766) on Thursday February 14, 2008 @11:37AM (#22420484) Homepage Journal
    Don't be a moron - just look at the data, don't just read someone's drivel about it!

    What about the fact IRS claims that less than 10.1% of total income taxes come from corporations?

    Well, the return (gross profit) of a corporation is divided into two parts for payment. On average, 80% of the take is paid to employees (you). 20% is paid to corporate shareholders (your grandma). So you would expect there to be a lot more tax paid by the 80% employees rather than the 20% shareholders (only the shareholder's portion is taxed as corporate tax). The fact that there are some obscenely overpaid CEOs [who are not corporate shareholders - in fact you can argue that they are robbing the shareholders] means that the ratio is balanced even further away from the corporation.

    stating GAO report that 61% of US corporations paid no taxes.

    Well, what about it? Why didn't they pay? Were they non-profits? Were they just not profitable? Very few small corporations are profitable - most are started and die soon after. A good percentage of corporations in 2004 made no money - why should they pay taxes?

    What about which states 71 companies paid ZERO state income tax

    That doesn't have anything to do with federal income tax, does it? It is very easy to not pay state taxes - all you have to do is convince the state that your business is more important than the tax revenue, and threaten to leave. Of course, I'm sure this report also included companies that were doing business in many states and only paid in the ones where they recorded profits. While this is bad for one state, it is good for another, and I believe that from such competition between states better states are formed.

    corporate taxes have falled to less than 1.4 % of GDP

    This is a foolish comparison - GDP is related to gross revenue, not gross profit. If I buy a building for $1M, and sell it to you for $1.01M, you want me to pay $100K in taxes on that $10K I earned? Don't be stupid - the average gross margin is about 20%, so gross takes are 20% of GDP. Like I said previously, 80% goes to employee salaries, so we are down to 4% of GDP as corporate profits. I claimed a corporate tax rate of 35% - hey look, 35% of 4% is (drumroll) 1.4% - imagine that, I was right!

    the IRS refunded corporations $63 billions

    And the IRS refunded individuals $109B - what is your point? That only shows that corporations are forced by the government to overpay more often than ordinary citizens - this does not benefit the corporations...

    Pepco Holdings profit was $725 million while its tax REFUNDS were $432m

    OK, someone else rebutted this one right through your thick head, so let me just add this: You get a refund because you were forced to pay too much tax earlier - a refund is NEVER a good thing, moron; it means the government forced you to give them a 0% loan at gunpoint.

    So maybe you better look into the facts, truther. The world does not run the way you think it does.
  • by pcgabe (712924) on Thursday February 14, 2008 @01:07PM (#22421980) Homepage Journal

    [...]we will have the technology to drill down into Mars' core and set off a few old-fashioned nukes to heat up it's core again.
    I....I can't tell if you're being serious or not here. I seems like you're serious, but you could just be very, very subtle. Are you playing the post-something-so-ridiculous-everyone-will-know-that-I-MUST-be-joking game? Because if so, I think you're winning.

    This isn't the first time I've heard this idea, either. Where do you guys pick up these notions of how things work? I don't even know where to begin. Should I point out the mathematics? (Taking into consideration the mass of Mars, how many "old-fashioned nukes" would it take to heat up its core again? Do we have access to that much fissionable material? And then add on all the other mass you're going to need to hold an atmosphere.) Or should I just let it slide?

    That's it, mister. No more sci-fi movies until you learn to obey the laws of physics! Set off a few old-fashioned nukes to heat up the core? I...the mind BOGGLES.

    The point being, NEVER. SAY. NEVER.
    What are you talking about? In the real world, we say NEVER all the time!
    • We will never travel faster than the speed of light.
    • We will never invent a perpetual motion/energy device.
    • We will never terraform Mars, because if we ever DID have the technology to overcome the myriad of obstacles between us and that goal, why would we need to terraform Mars? Under what circumstances would we have the technology of the gods, and yet need another planet? Giant arcologies in space seem more reasonable.

    It sounds to me like the real problem here is your lack of imagination.
    Yes, clearly *I* am the crazy person here who has no idea of how physics works. In this dimension, it runs on imagination! Obviously. I feel like a fool. Thank you for enlightening me.
  • Re:All we need now (Score:3, Interesting)

    by theophilosophilus (606876) on Thursday February 14, 2008 @01:11PM (#22422056) Homepage Journal
    People on Slashdot need to settle down and become more informed about energy alternatives. Theres a lot of posturing going on for peoples "favorite" energy alternative and it is destructive because it inhibits meaningful discussion on effective means to eliminate environmentally destructive technologies. The distinction between those that are thinking logically and those that have came upon an opinion emotionally can be seen by the disdain of the comments.

    And you confuse corn with perpetual motion.

    Solar energy is perpetual motion?

    1) None of the corn used for ethanol production is edible.

    False - MOST of the corn used for ethanol is edible. There has not yet been a significant shift to higher energy varieties. Further, corn production for ethanol displaces acres that could be devoted to edible corn or other edible grain.

    2) Food prices have gone up because the cost of the fuel used to transport them has gone up.

    True to an extent - Ethanol usage has raised the cost of food, and not just the cost of corn. Ethanol takes corn away from food production. Further, high corn prices stimulates planting of more corn which displaces other editable crops. However, ethanol accounts for only a percentage in the overall rise in prices. Increased demand from China accounts for a large percentage. Further increased fuel prices accounts for an even larger percentage. Finally, commodity speculation accounts for a huge percentage. I'm afraid most of the people on Slashdot are unaware of the present over valuation in futures contracts for corn.

    Slashdotter's are also unaware of ethanol's byproducts which mitigate the impact on food prices. Ethanol produces distiller's dried grain which is used in animal feed. This is animal feed that would have used corn if it weren't for the more desirable and nutritious distiller's dried grain. This animal feed is an indirect use of ethanol byproducts in the food supply. Ethanol also produces corn oil which can be used for food or diesel production. None of those other explanations can alleviate the fact that ethanol production does impact food.

    to add to that, growing stuff for fuel pushes up the price of food - in countries where many are already hungry this is not good. As if enough of the 3rd world hadn't already supplanted food crops with tobacco and coffee ...

    Low priced American corn is destroying third world agriculture. Its a chicken and the egg problem, which would we prefer - people that can buy food because they cant make money, or those that can't buy food because they don't have enough? High corn prices stimulate modernization of third world agriculture. Third world farmers are poor because they can't afford to invest in advanced technology. Higher corn prices stimulate foreign direct investment as well as third world government investment in more productive methods.

    It takes energy to process corn into ethanol. That energy is not coming from previously produced ethanol. It comes from hydrocarbons. Ethanol completely misses the idea of carbon neutrality.

    It also takes energy to process the alternatives to ethanol - THIS IS A MAJOR POINT THAT CRITICS NEGLECT. You are essentially arguing that ethanol production = fuel use. However, pure electric cars = coal use. Hydrogen cars = coal use. You are arguing that, because a majority of corn is planted by diesel fuel consuming tractors it is the equivalent of burning diesel fuel. Well, the majority of electricity comes from coal and the majority of hydrogen is produced with coal electricity.
    Granted, that majority of electricity doesn't have to be produced by coal. Then again, the majority of ethanol doesn't need to be produced by diesel. The corn produced on my land this year was produced by biodiesel produced from corn oil (a byproduct of ethanol production).

    Reality is probably much lower than the our friendly lobbyists from Iowa would have us believe.

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