An Oilman's Dream: It's Raining Hydrocarbons on Saturn's Moon
Don't tell Exxon, but the January 29th issue of the Geophysical Research Letters contains new findings by the Cassini radar team about Titan, Saturn's moon: "[It] is just covered in carbon-bearing material -- it's a giant factory of organic chemicals. [It] has hundreds of times more liquid hydrocarbons than all the known oil and natural gas reserves on Earth [...] The hydrocarbons rain from the sky, collecting in vast deposits that form lakes and dunes." Wow.
Not exactly the best place to go on vacation, though. It's the average temperatures of around minus 179 degrees Celsius (minus 290 degrees Fahrenheit) that cause methane and ethane to be found in liquid form. There's also probably "tholins", a term coined by Carl Sagan in 1979 to describe the complex organic molecules at the heart of prebiotic chemistry.
Cassini has mapped about 20 percent of Titan's surface with radar. Several hundred lakes and seas have been observed, with each of several dozen estimated to contain more hydrocarbon liquid than Earth's oil and gas reserves. The dark dunes that run along the equator contain a volume of organics several hundred times larger than Earth's coal reserves.
Proven reserves of natural gas on Earth total 130 billion tons, enough to provide 300 times the amount of energy the entire United States uses annually for residential heating, cooling and lighting. Dozens of Titan's lakes individually have the equivalent of at least this much energy in the form of methane and ethane.
A strange universe we live in.
On second thought, maybe we should tell Exxon about this. It would probably speed up space exploration!