Saturn’s moon Titan

Saturn’s moon 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 University scientists, adding to evidence that oil is not biological in origin.

The scientists at the Laurel, Md., institution were reporting this week on data collected from NASA’s Cassini probe.

“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 university’s Applied Physics Laboratory in the Jan. 29 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.

Lorenz used the term “organic chemicals” in the sense that hydrocarbons are traditionally included within the study of “organic chemistry,” not to imply any of the hydrocarbons discovered on Titan are of biological origin.

Commenting on the research findings, the European Space Agency said, “Proven reserves of natural gas on Earth total 130 thousand million tons, enough to provide 300 times the amount of energy the entire United States uses annually for residential heating, cooling and lighting.”

WND previously reported NASA conclusions that the methane found on Titan is not of biological origin.

“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.

Measurements were taken by the Gas Chromatograph Mass Spectromoter, or GCMS, aboard the European Space Agency’s Huygens Probe, which descended through Titan’s thick atmosphere Jan. 14, 2005.

Analysis of the GCMS findings determined that the methane on Titan was composed of Carbon-13, the isotope of carbon associated with abiotic origins, whereas living organisms have a preference for Carbon-12.

NASA scientists examining the ratio of Carbon-13 to Carbon-12 in the methane on Titan did not observe the Carbon-12 enrichment in the methane of Titan that was associated with organic carbon on Earth, which is rich in Carbon-12.

WND also reported scientists examining the liquid hydrocarbons exuding from vents in the Lost City hydrothermal field along the Mid-Atlantic Range at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean are abiotic in origin.

The scientists examining the Lost City vents plan to return this summer to sample what they believe will be abiotic advanced hydrocarbon chains exuding from the vents, in addition to the simpler hydrocarbon chains, such as methane.

Cassini’s next fly-by of Titan is scheduled for Feb. 22, when the radar instrument will observe the landing site of the European Space Agency’s Huygens probe.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency.


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