NEW YORK – Astronomers are providing new evidence hydrocarbons are not a biological product but instead are created by inorganic chemical processes that occur on a continuing basis.
Scientists working at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, using the 30-meter telescope of the Institute for Radio Astronomy, have discovered a vast cloud of hydrocarbons within the Horse Head Nebula galaxy in the Orion constellation, according to reports published in The Daily Galaxy and in the oil industry publication Rigzone.
“We observed the operation of a natural refinery of gigantic size,” astronomer Jerome Pety told The Daily Galaxy.
Astronomer Viviana Guzman explained to both publications that the nebula contains 200 times more hydrocarbons than the total amount of water on Earth.
In 1951, Russian scientist and professor Nikolai Kudryavtsev articulated what today has become known as the Russian-Ukranian theory of deep, abiotic petroleum origins.
Essentially, the theory rejects the contention that oil was formed from the remains of ancient plant and animal life that died millions of years ago.
Thomas Gold was a professor of astronomy who taught at Cornell University and died in 2004, at 84 years old. In 1998, when he was 78, he published a controversial book , “The Deep Hot Biosphere: The Myth of Fossil Fuels.”
As an astronomer, Gold was well aware that hydrocarbons are abundant in the universe. Since the early part of the 20th century, spectrographs that analyze wavelengths have permitted astronomers to determine with certainty that carbon is the fourth most abundant element in the universe, right after hydrogen, helium and oxygen.
Furthermore, Gold wrote, among planetary bodies, “carbon is found mostly in compounds with hydrogen – hydrocarbons – which, at different temperatures and pressures, may be gaseous, liquid, or solid.”
“Astronomical techniques have thus produced clear and indisputable evidence that hydrocarbons are major constituents of bodies great and small within our solar system (and beyond),” he said.
In other words, hydrocarbons are not “organic chemicals” resulting from life processes on earth, as is commonly assumed by proponents of the fossil fuel theory.
Rather, Gold argued, hydrogen is a fundamental element readily available in the universe that combines with carbon to form hydrocarbons, whether life is present or not.
What astronomers have known about the abundance of hydrocarbons in the universe, however, has not passed on to geologists. In contrast, geologists think of hydrocarbons as forming only through the activity of life – either in building life through photosynthesis or when forms of life die.
Abiotic oil found on Titan
NASA scientists, in conjunction with the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency, have determined from a Cassini-Huygens probe that landed in 2005 on Titan, the giant moon of Saturn, that Titan contains abundant methane.
“We have determined that Titan’s methane is not of biological origin, so it must be replenished by geological processes on Titan, perhaps venting from a supply in the interior that could have been trapped there as the moon formed,” Hasso Niemann of the Goddard Space Flight Center told reporters Nov. 30, 2005.
The Gas Chromatograph Mass Spectrometer, or GCMS, an instrument that identifies different atmospheric constituents by their mass, provided measurements demonstrating the methane on Titan is composed of Carbon-13, the isotope of carbon associated with inorganic or abiotic origins, whereas living organisms are typically associated with Carbon-12.
Each Carbon-13 atom has an extra neutron in its nucleus, making Carbon-13 atoms slightly heavier than Carbon-12 atoms, permitting the GCMS to distinguish between methane isotopes with Carbon-12 and methane with Carbon-13 atoms.
Titan has hundreds of times more liquid hydrocarbons than all the known oil and natural gas reserves on Earth, according to a team of Johns Hopkins scientists reporting in February 2008 on their new findings from data collected from Cassini-Huygens probe radar data.
“Several hundred lakes or seas have been discovered, of which dozens are estimated to contain more hydrocarbon liquid than the entire known oil and gas reserves on Earth,” wrote lead scientist Ralph Lorenz of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., in the Jan. 29, 2008, issue of the Geophysical Research Letters.
Lorenz also reported dark dunes running along the equator cover 20 percent of Titan’s surface, comprising a volume of hydrocarbon material several hundred times larger than Earth’s coal reserves.
“Titan is just covered in carbon-bearing material – it’s a giant factory of organic chemicals,” Lorenz wrote.