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Space The Almighty Buck

Titan's Organics Surpass Oil Reserves on Earth 555

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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  • Invade! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Zouden ( 232738 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @10:44PM (#22415132)
    I hear Halliburton has already won the tender.
  • Mars? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by __NR_kill ( 1018116 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @10:45PM (#22415140)
    I think we chose the wrong planet for a mission. We need to go to Saturn..
    • 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 [] and Europa []. 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*
      • Re:Mars? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Cassius Corodes ( 1084513 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @11:14PM (#22415546)
        As an aside, I think finding extremophiles on Earth doesn't really support the notion that life could occur in extreme environments. All it says is that after life has originated it can adapt to extreme environments - the requirements for abiogenesis are likely to be much more stringent then for post abiogenesis-adaptation.
        • 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.
      • Re:Mars? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by PieSquared ( 867490 ) <isosceles2006@ g m a i l . c om> 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: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by TheLink ( 130905 )
          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
        • 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: []

          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 Gorimek ( 61128 ) on Thursday February 14, 2008 @04:01AM (#22417480) Homepage
            It's true that Mars can't hold an atmosphere forever, but it'll do fine for several million years. Humanity would just need to refill it occasionally.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Fëanáro ( 130986 )
            These atmosphere-stripping processes work on a timescale several orders of magnitude larger than any reasonable terraforming process.

            If we find a practical way to generate a habitable environment on mars, one that does not take longer than a few million years, then we also can replenish the atmosphere much faster than it leaves.
  • 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.
    • by Asky314159 ( 1114009 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @11:00PM (#22415350)
      Yeah, that'd be great! Maybe if we burn the same amount of hydrocarbons getting the tanker out and back as the tanker itself hauls, it can be marketed as a "carbon neutral" energy source!
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      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.
  • Gattaca (Score:3, Funny)

    by Adambomb ( 118938 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @10:48PM (#22415184) Journal
    Oh great, so now theres no reason for Vincent to go there. Stop ruining fiction, reality!
  • Next up (Score:2, Funny)

    by eclectro ( 227083 )
    The TV show "Jed Clampett, astronaut," appears.
  • 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.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ROMRIX ( 912502 )

      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.

      It does.
    • 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?
      • If we had the technology to haul hydrocarbons from another planet economically, we'd have the technology to do away with hydrocarbons completely. Once you have cheap access to space, a bunch of different energy source open up. Take your pick: solar satellites, He3 from the moon for advanced nuclear reactors, hydrogen from Jupiter's atmosphere, and probably a bunch of others that nobody's thought up yet. Cars will either need to become electric or run on Fischer-Tropes produced gas.

        This announcement is interesting scientifically, but has no relevance to energy problems.

  • by circletimessquare ( 444983 ) <circletimessquare AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @10:52PM (#22415236) Homepage Journal
    1. Titan found to have WMDs

    2. GW Bush orders the militarization of NASA

    3. "Mission Accomplished" announced before probes with frickin' laser beams get past the orbit of Mars
    • Auchhqa! (Score:3, Funny)

      by mcrbids ( 148650 )
      I was just about to write something about suddenly finding a need to invade Titan because of their despotic leader... but you beat me to the punch!

      'Cause, you know, this is an original joke that, eh, we've never seen before around these parts....

  • so.... (Score:2, Interesting)

    if all our stuff supposedly came from dead dinosaurs, what does this mean?
    • Re:so.... (Score:5, Informative)

      by schnikies79 ( 788746 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @11:38PM (#22415758)
      Short-chain hydrocarbons are fairly common in the universe, as has been stated above. Short-chain would be ethane, methane, propane. Basically any carbon chain that is lighter than air.

      As for now, the only source of long-chain hydrocarbons, aka what we commonly consider oil (C20+) is earth.
  • 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.)
  • Big deal (Score:5, Insightful)

    by the_humeister ( 922869 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @10:54PM (#22415276)
    By the time the cost of technology required to go to Titan falls to a reasonable level, we should have already passed the need to use hydrocarbons as our main source of energy.
  • pointless (Score:5, Funny)

    by timmarhy ( 659436 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @10:55PM (#22415284)
    tree huggers will march on the white house demanding the save titan from the evil corporations and their explotation of a defensless moon.
  • A mission out to Titan to collect a load of hydrocarbons would cost far more energy than the load would be worth. We'd be much better off investing in an orbital solar power station.

  • You still insist on calling hydro-carbons "fossil-fuels".
  • Moreover (Score:3, Funny)

    by martin-boundary ( 547041 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @10:56PM (#22415302)
    By an amazing coincidence, Titan doesn't actually have democracy over there...


  • by Chairboy ( 88841 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @10:58PM (#22415330) Homepage
    "That's no moon. It's a gas station!"
  • by jollyreaper ( 513215 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @10:59PM (#22415334)
    Oil in space, never saw that coming. I suppose if we do find life on Titan, it will have to be divided into two armed camps, warring over tribal superstitions no educated sentient should believe in.
  • 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.
  • by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @11:04PM (#22415410)
    Chemical Energy Bonanza: Remote sensors indicate that inner planet "Earth" has hundreds of times more oxygen gas than all known reserves here on Titan.
  • by chord.wav ( 599850 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @11:20PM (#22415590) Journal
    The hydrocarbons rain from the sky
    Titan, the first non-smoking planet. At least on rainy days.
  • by rah1420 ( 234198 ) <> on Thursday February 14, 2008 @12:05AM (#22416020)
    ... that Arthur C. Clarke "discovered" that Titan has vast reserves of hydrocarbon [] way back in 1976.
  • Fuel for probes (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Thursday February 14, 2008 @12:09AM (#22416042) 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.
    • 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...
  • This isn't news (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Swampash ( 1131503 ) on Thursday February 14, 2008 @12:38AM (#22416324)
    We've know that Titan was drenched in carbon compounds for decades. What next, a headline reading Sun's hydrogen surpasses hydrogen reserves on Earth?
  • by anwyn ( 266338 ) on Thursday February 14, 2008 @12:47AM (#22416402)
    To get it off Titan you need propulsion. OK, you've got fuel, where is the oxidizer? Without the Oxidizer, no way to move the stuff off Titan.

    I suspect the reason there is so much fuel in one place, is that there is no oxidizer to burn it.

  • 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: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by javilon ( 99157 )
      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.
  • by kanweg ( 771128 ) on Thursday February 14, 2008 @06:18AM (#22418040)
    I just invented the oxygen bomb. OK, it doesn't work on all planets, but that is OK. After all, earth is the peace planet, and we bring peace wherever there are hydrocarbons.

  • Space Is Too Big (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Gallenod ( 84385 ) on Thursday February 14, 2008 @11:13AM (#22420168)
    We can't mine Titan or any other intra-solar or interstellar body as long as we're bound by three dimensions. Until we figure out a way to either fold space or create wormholes and use them to establish direct connection between here and other places, we'll be slower than snails (or even glaciers) as far as space travel is concerned.

    Call me when you've evolved a Third Stage Navigator or found our StarGate.

Mathemeticians stand on each other's shoulders while computer scientists stand on each other's toes. -- Richard Hamming