Titan - The Planet-Sized Hydrocarbon Factory

Written by Oil, Gas, and Mining on . Posted in Oil and Gas

A view of Titan’s north polar regions with liquid hydrocarbon seas
A view of Titan’s north polar regions with liquid hydrocarbon seas.

Since 2004, the Cassini Satellite has been orbiting Saturn and its moons and the surprises are spectacular. Cassini can determine the chemical composition of materials by the way they absorb and reflect infrared light. One of Saturn’s moons, Titan, shares the unique honor with Earth as being the only bodies in the Solar System to have a stable liquid at its surface. But while Earth’s surface is mainly water, Titan’s is mainly methane and other hydrocarbons. Instead of a water cycle, Titan is a planet-sized hydrocarbon factory, with hydrocarbon rains that collect in vast seas and solid dunes near the equator. The accompanying photo shows several lakes (dark spots) near Titan’s northern polar region, several of which are larger than Lake Michigan, and one sea (Ligeria Mare) rivals the area of the Caspian Sea.

Titan’s polar lakes have hundreds of times more natural gas and other liquid hydrocarbons than all known oil and gas reserves on Earth. Of course, the distance to Titan is extremely far and the methods of extraction and transportation back to Earth unrealistic—a resource only for the mind. Still, the mind boggles at such a remarkable place and at what other wonders the universe holds.

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