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Titan May Mean Freedom From Energy Scarcity

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Saturn’s orange moon Titan is rich in liquid hydrocarbons according to findings of NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.  Huge deposits are collected in lakes and dunes. Practically speaking, commercialization is decades away and maybe the stuff of the next century. Nonetheless, Saturn’s Titan has the potential to become a permanent game changer sooner rather than later.

“Titan is just covered in carbon-bearing material, it’s a giant factory of organic chemicals,” says Ralph Lorenz, Cassini radar team member from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. “This vast carbon inventory is an important window into the geology and climate history of Titan.”

The Titan Mare Explorer, or TiME, will perform the first direct inspection of an ocean environment beyond Earth by landing in, and floating on, a large methane-ethane sea on this murky and complex moon. The TiME capsule launches circa 2016 and reaches Titan by 2023, by parachuting onto the moon’s second-largest northern sea, the Ligeia Mare. For 3 months, the capsule will study the composition and behavior of the sea and its interaction with Titan’s weather and climate. TiME also seeks to gather evidence of the complex organic chemistry that may be active on Titan.  1)

A lightning storm has continued unabated on Saturn since mid-January.  The lightning flashes are 10,000 times stronger than flashes on Earth according to research team member Georg Fischer, of the Austrian Academy of Sciences.
If data on the lightening flashes are correct, the vibrational forces from the
lightening would make life on Saturn very tenuous indeed.

Confirmation earlier this year of Titan’s hydrocarbon lakes makes the Saturn moon the first place other than Earth where open bodies of liquid have been found. This means that the strength of Titan’s magnetic field is constantly changing , leaving its surface more vulnerable to damaging cosmic rays.  2)

Without stable protection from radiation “the existence of life is very unlikely” according to Morente. 3)  The presence of crude oil implies that an animal life form existed on that planet, and their bodies decomposed without enough air/gas to decompose properly (as is how the crude oil formed on earth). Titan’s water stock is frozen into chunks as hard as granite. 4)  If those ice “rocks” melted, the environment could become more hospitable to the building blocks of life. With liquid water, the planet could host the formation of amino acids and  full proteins.

Cassini’s observations of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, have given scientists a glimpse of what Earth might have been like before life evolved. They now believe Titan possesses many parallels to Earth, including  channels, dunes, rain, snow, hills, mountains and possibly sporadic volcanic activity.

Icy particles from the surface jets collectively form a huge plume three times taller than the width of Enceladus. The moon’s diameter is about 300 miles.  It is believed that the plume feeds particles into Saturn’s most expansive ring, the E ring. Already in the extended mission, the spacecraft has come as close as  15 miles from the  moon surface.   5)

The science goals of space study on Saturn are to understand the sources, as well as the disposition of Saturn’s plasma, its acceleration and movement.
The brief reconnaissance encounters of the Pioneer 11 and the two Voyager spacecraft have provided most of our current information about the structure and dynamics of Saturn’s magnetosphere.

Details of the magnetosphere are set forth:  6)

  •   Saturn’s ‘bow shock’, the region point where the solar wind and the planet’s magnetic field meet, much like the bow wave of a ship, is between 20 and 35 times Saturn’s radius out into space.
  • The thickness of the bow shock is about 2000 kilometres.
  • Saturn’s internal magnetic field is closely aligned with the planet’s axis of rotation (within 1 degree).
  • Saturn’s magnetosphere appears to be intermediate in nature to those of Earth and Jupiter. As with Jupiter’s magnetosphere, the dayside inner magnetosphere is mostly driven by the fast planetary rotation. However at night, it is expected that the nightside and outer magnetosphere is primarily driven by the solar wind, as is the case on Earth.
  • There is an electrical current (the ‘equatorial ring current’) flowing with about 10 000 000 Amps around 600 000 kilometres above Saturn.
  • Saturn Kilometric Radiation (SKR) is the principal radio emission from Saturn. SKR is believed to be linked to the way electrons in the solar wind interact with the magnetic field at Saturn’s poles.  
  • Suppose there is a large quantity of natural gas on Titan. How would this natural gas be extracted and transported to the earth? These details will be the subject of scientific inquiry this century and next.

    Floating Liquefied Natural Gas (FLNG) is an innovative technology designed to enable the exploitation of offshore gas resources that would otherwise remain undeveloped. 7 )  Due to environmental or economic factors, it is not yet economically feasible to develop these sources via a land-based LNG operation.  8)

    In essence, FLNG  is defined as either a ship or barge that can sail or be towed to offshore gas discoveries. The technology can be employed to extract gas, freeze it to a liquefied form or offload the LNG to tankers.

    Since all processing is done at the gas field, there is no requirement for long pipelines to shore or compression units to pump the gas to shore.These advantages  reduce significantly the environmental footprint anywhere.

    In addition, environmental disturbances will be minimized during decommissioning because the facility can easily be disconnected and removed prior to being re-deployed elsewhere. Translating these manufacturing advantages onto Titan, the natural gas could be extracted and refined solely on the planet.  The refinery and transport might be done by unmanned robotic vehicles, dirigibles and robots emulating human mechanical capabilities. There are other technological issues to overcome like transporting the FLNG from Titan to the earth or to nearby planets where significant manufacturing or reprocessing can occur.


    1) http://www.jhuapl.edu/newscenter/pressreleases/2011/110506.asp

    2) http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/09/090915-saturn-lightning-storms.html

    3) http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/10/081028-titan-lightning-life_2.html

    4) http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/science/index.cfm

    5) http://www.jhuapl.edu/newscenter/pressreleases/2011/110506.asp

    6) http://www.esa.int/SPECIALS/Cassini-Huygens/SEMBJCHHZTD_0.html

    7) http://www.retailenergy.com/hybrid/Liquified%20Natural%20Gas.htm





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    About Dr Joseph S Maresca

    I've taught approx. 34 sections of collegiate courses including computer applications, college algebra, collegiate statistics, law, accounting, finance and economics. The experience includes service as a Board Director on the CPA Journal and Editor of the CPA Candidates Inc. Newsletter. In college, I worked as a statistics lab assistant. Manhattan College awarded a BS in an allied area of operations research. The program included courses in calculus, ordinary differential equations, probability, statistical inference, linear algebra , the more advanced operations research, price analysis and econometrics. Membership in the Delta Mu Delta National Honor Society was granted together with the degree. My experience includes both private account and industry. In addition, I've worked extensively in the Examinations Division of the AICPA from time to time. Recently, I passed the Engineering in Training Exam which consisted of 9 hours of examination in chemistry, physics, calculus, differential equations, linear algebra, probability/ statistics, fluids, electronics, materials science/structure of matter, mechanics, statics, thermodynamics, computer science, dynamics and a host of minor subject areas like engineering economics. A very small percentage of engineers actually take and pass the EIT exam. The number has hovered at circa 5%. Several decades ago, I passed the CPA examination and obtained another license in Computer Information Systems Auditing. A CISA must have knowledge in the areas of data center review, systems applications, the operating system of the computer, disaster recovery, contingency planning, developmental systems, the standards which govern facility reviews and a host of other areas. An MBA in Accounting with an Advanced Professional Certificate in Computer Applications/ Information Systems , an Advanced Professional Certificate in Finance and an Advanced Professional Certificate in Organizational Design were earned at New York University-Graduate School of Business (Stern ). In December of 2005, an earned PhD in Accounting was granted by the Ross College. The program entrance requires a previous Masters Degree for admittance together with a host of other criteria. The REGISTRAR of Ross College contact is: Tel . US 202-318-4454 FAX [records for Dr. Joseph S. Maresca Box 646 Bronxville NY 10708-3602] The clinical experience included the teaching of approximately 34 sections of college accounting, economics, statistics, college algebra, law, thesis project coursework and the professional grading of approx. 50,000 CPA examination essays with the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. Additionally, membership is held in the Sigma Beta Delta International Honor Society chartered in 1994. Significant writings include over 10 copyrights in the name of the author (Joseph S. Maresca) and a patent in the earthquake sciences.
    • Costello

      Hope the program is not in danger with all the cuts.

      Is your ID in quotes because it’s not your real name?

    • This article is a mess, and considering the numerous factual errors it contains I assume that the good doctor (if such he is – looks like an anagram to me) is not an astronomer or planetologist.

      The most glaring one is the statement that there is crude oil on Titan. It is true that hydrocarbons exist there, and that crude oil is a hydrocarbon, but the two terms are not synonyms. A hydrocarbon is simply a chemical compound comprised of hydrogen and carbon. On Titan, the predominant hydrocarbon is methane.

      I’m also perplexed by the author’s account of lightning storms on Saturn, which appears to have no connection to anything else in the article. Neither does he explain what the moon’s open bodies of liquid have to do with the variability of its magnetic field.


    • The presence of crude oil implies that an animal life form existed on that planet, and their bodies decomposed without enough air/gas to decompose properly (as is how the crude oil formed on earth). Titan’s water stock is frozen into chunks as hard as granite.

      The word implies is being utilized. Next, let me deal with the opening findings of Casini.

      “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 data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. ”

      The statement by itself justifies the planned explorations. Lastly, the lightening is another potential energy source which can be harnessed. Remember, we are now where the Wright Brothers were at the beginning of the previous century. Look where aviation took us after the Wright Brothers. If we pursue these energy technologies, the best is yet to come for
      sure. There is certainly more promise in pursuing hydrocarbons on Titan over the next century than fission nuclear power.

      We won’t know for sure what’s on Titan until the exploratory probes have completed their work. The initial findings provide an important perspective with regard to Titan, its environment and the potential for energy exploration this century and next.

    • Dr Maresca, you have it backwards. Again, crude oil and hydrocarbons are not the same thing and your assumption that those on Titan came from the decay of living organisms is unwarranted. There are hydrocarbons on Jupiter and Saturn as well – planets without a solid surface. Organic compounds are called that not because they are derived from living organisms, but because they are the building blocks of life.

      There may indeed be life on Titan – there’s less ethane and acetylene in the atmosphere than there ought to be, and one possible explanation is that something is eating the stuff – but the hydrocarbons in and of themselves aren’t the telltale signature.

      Agreed that the presence of hydrocarbons on Titan warrants further exploration, but the cost of extracting and exploiting them, even using robotic technology, is so astronomical as to make it unfeasible for the foreseeable future – probably until long after Earth’s oil supplies have dried up.

      Mining the upper atmospheres of Jupiter and Saturn for hydrocarbons might actually be easier, since the tankers wouldn’t have such a big gravity well to climb out of in order to ship the stuff back to Earth.

    • This century will come upon a commercializable “Artificial Sun” or Tokamak. The existence of fusion power will be an important precursor to cheaper space exploration utilizing robotics and similar instrumentalities.

      Our Titan probe will take 7 years or so to reach its destination. Again, travel speeds will accelerate much like airplane speeds accelerated from the Wright Brothers to supersonic speeds now experienced in transcontinental flights. By mid-century, we might
      be able to reach Saturn in half the time or less.

      This will be dependent upon progress made in harnessing the artificial sun or Tokamak.

      There may be significant potential for harnessing the tremendous lightening described in the article. Again, transmission technologies are still evolving. In addition, we need to perfect the material sciences in order to have commercializable robotics operating on Titan and its challenging environment.

      I agree that mining the upper atmospheres of Jupiter and Saturn for hydrocarbons would be easier in all likelihood.

      NASA has found an oily liquid lake filled with hydrocarbons on Titan, Saturn’s Earth-like moon.

      It’s the first liquid lake found away from Earth. Named Ontario Lacus, it is bigger than Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. And, it’s filled with oil. Or, at least it has liquid ethane, a component of crude oil.

      Now all we have to do is figure out how to transport it 800 million miles through space, and the energy crisis is solved. Right?

    • zingzing

      is that free verse?

    • Nah, he’s commenting from his iPhone or something.