NASA: First Geologic Map of Titan

Guest post by David Middleton

From the cooler than schist files…

NEWS | NOVEMBER 18, 2019
The First Global Geologic Map of Titan Completed

The first map showing the global geology of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, has been completed and fully reveals a dynamic world of dunes, lakes, plains, craters and other terrains.

Titan is the only planetary body in our solar system other than Earth known to have stable liquid on its surface. But instead of water raining down from clouds and filling lakes and seas as on Earth, on Titan what rains down is methane and ethane – hydrocarbons that we think of as gases but that behave as liquids in Titan’s frigid climate.

“Titan has an active methane-based hydrologic cycle that has shaped a complex geologic landscape, making its surface one of most geologically diverse in the solar system,” said Rosaly Lopes, a planetary geologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and lead author of new research used to develop the map.

“Despite the different materials, temperatures and gravity fields between Earth and Titan, many surface features are similar between the two worlds and can be interpreted as being products of the same geologic processes. The map shows that the different geologic terrains have a clear distribution with latitude, globally, and that some terrains cover far more area than others.”

Lopes and her team, including JPL’s Michael Malaska, worked with fellow planetary geologist David Williams of the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University in Tempe. Their findings, which include the relative age of Titan’s geologic terrains, were recently published in the journal Nature Astronomy.Lopes’ team used data from NASA’s Cassini mission, which operated between 2004 and 2017 and did more than 120 flybys of the Mercury-size moon. Specifically, they used data from Cassini’s radar imager to penetrate Titan’s opaque atmosphere of nitrogen and methane. In addition, the team used data from Cassini’s visible and infrared instruments, which were able to capture some of Titan’s larger geologic features through the methane haze.

“This study is an example of using combined datasets and instruments,” Lopes said. “Although we did not have global coverage with synthetic aperture radar [SAR], we used data from other instruments and other modes from radar to correlate characteristics of the different terrain units so we could infer what the terrains are even in areas where we don’t have SAR coverage.”

Williams worked with the JPL team to identify what geologic units on Titan could be determined using first the radar images and then to extrapolate those units to the non-radar-covered regions. To do so, he built on his experience working with radar images on NASA’s Magellan Venus orbiter and from a previous regional geologic map of Titan that he developed.

“The Cassini mission revealed that Titan is a geologically active world, where hydrocarbons like methane and ethane take the role that water has on Earth,” Williams said. “These hydrocarbons rain down on the surface, flow in streams and rivers, accumulate in lakes and seas, and evaporate into the atmosphere. It’s quite an astounding world!”

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Italian Space Agency. NASA’s JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter. The radar instrument was built by JPL and the Italian Space Agency, working with team members from the U.S. and several European countries.

More information about Cassini can be found here:

https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/cassini

NASA JPL

The first global geologic map of Titan is based on radar and visible-light images from NASA’s Cassini mission, which orbited Saturn from 2004 to 2017. Labels point to several of the named surface features.Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU
› Full image and caption

The first global geologic map of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, is based on radar and visible and infrared images from NASA’s Cassini mission, which orbited Saturn from 2004 to 2017.

Black lines mark 30 degrees of latitude and longitude. Map is in Mollweide projection, a global view that attempts to minimize the size or area distortion, especially at the poles (although shapes are increasingly distorted away from the center of the map). It is centered on 0 degrees latitude, 180 degrees longitude. Map scale is 1:20,000,000.

In the annotated figure, the map is labeled with several of the named surface features. Also located is the landing site of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Huygens Probe, part of NASA’s Cassini mission.

The map legend colors represent the broad types of geologic units found on Titan: plains (broad, relatively flat regions), labyrinth (tectonically disrupted regions often containing fluvial channels), hummocky (hilly, with some mountains), dunes (mostly linear dunes, produced by winds in Titan’s atmosphere), craters (formed by impacts) and lakes (regions now or previously filled with liquid methane or ethane). Titan is the only planetary body in our solar system other than Earth known to have stable liquid on its surface — methane and ethane.

For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission visit http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov and http://www.nasa.gov/cassini.

NASA JPL

No . . . This has no relevance to how hydrocarbons formed on Earth . . . or anywhere else, other than Titan . . . Actually, it doesn’t even have any relevance to how hydrocarbons formed on Titan, in much the same manner that the fact that Earth’s lakes and oceans are mostly filled with water doesn’t tell us anything about how the water formed . . . But it is very fracking cool.

Reference

Lopes, R.M.C., Malaska, M.J., Schoenfeld, A.M. et al. A global geomorphologic map of Saturn’s moon Titan. Nat Astron (2019) doi:10.1038/s41550-019-0917-6 LINK

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NASA and ESA Celebrate 10 Years Since Titan Landing

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Robert of Texas
November 19, 2019 10:31 pm

That is one serious flat moon…or am I reading this wrong?

If you have hydrogen near carbon you are going to get hydrocarbons. I assume this moon was once much warmer, so the reactions were likely favored. One has to wonder where the primal oxygen is at? People do not usually realize how much oxygen is with the Earth – they think free oxygen, not oxygen bound in minerals (and water).

Reply to  Robert of Texas
November 19, 2019 10:44 pm

Robert.
Oil floats on water.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Philip Mulholland
November 19, 2019 11:22 pm

On earth with earth gravity. Who knows on other rocks.

Reply to  Patrick MJD
November 19, 2019 11:43 pm

“Who knows on other rocks”
Patrick
That is just silly.
So methane rain falls upward on Titan?
Schaller, E.L., Brown, M.E., Roe, H.G. and Bouchez, A.H., 2006. A large cloud outburst at Titan’s south pole. Icarus, 182(1), pp.224-229.

The most important skill a geologist need is the ability to choose the right perspective (both space and also time).
In the words of Douglas Adams in the opening passages of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy –
“Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”

Dergy
Reply to  Philip Mulholland
November 21, 2019 7:15 pm

We really don’t know how big or small space is. We can’t even measure the Pleiades Cluster or Polaris. The range of purported distances measure range 15%. That’s ridiculously huge from something supremely “close” to us.

Chaswarnertoo
Reply to  Patrick MJD
November 20, 2019 12:07 am

Huh?

Jim Giordano
Reply to  Patrick MJD
November 20, 2019 12:39 am

Gravity is gravity.

Since oil is less dense than water, oil will always float on top of water.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Jim Giordano
November 20, 2019 6:05 am

We don’t actually know that on other rocks.

Reply to  Jim Giordano
November 20, 2019 6:50 am

Patrick,
You are asking the same question and you will get the same answer.
That’s how science works.

MarkW
Reply to  Jim Giordano
November 20, 2019 7:33 am

In the presence of gravity, less dense floats on top of more dense.
Basic physics, it doesn’t change based on where you are located.

Bryan A
Reply to  Jim Giordano
November 20, 2019 9:58 am

But, since Titan is So Cold (-179C ~ -290F), water will always be a solid.
Oil wont necessarily “Float” on it but it would coat it or cover it up

Reply to  Patrick MJD
November 20, 2019 12:45 am

Patrick
My reply to your comment has gone into the sin bin.

Pat Frank
Reply to  Philip Mulholland
November 20, 2019 9:44 am

Not only do hydrocarbons float on water in any significant gravity field, hydrocarbons are immiscible with water.

That means water and hydrocarbons will separate even in the absence of gravity.

Pat Frank
Reply to  Philip Mulholland
November 20, 2019 3:01 pm

They’d glob up in the absence of gravity, Dave.

Probably end up floating their separate little blobby ways.

Pat Frank
Reply to  Philip Mulholland
November 20, 2019 3:11 pm

The experiment in the space station, here. In German. 🙂

Oil and water separate but that’s about it.

Constraint in a chamber clearly plays a part in the behavior.

Free-floating, I’d expect the blobs to separate, and the surface tension of water to play a large part in squeezing out the hydrocarbon.

chemman
Reply to  Patrick MJD
November 20, 2019 2:04 pm

Density is mass/volume of the element/compound. Gravity has no bearing on that. So less dense liquids and solids will float on a more dense liquid.

Rich Davis
Reply to  chemman
November 20, 2019 5:28 pm

Density is mass per volume, yes.
Gravity plays no part in the definition of density, true.

BUT… Floating or buoyancy depends on gravity. So no, there can be no buoyancy effect in the absence of gravity.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Patrick MJD
November 21, 2019 2:36 am

My point exactly, no-one knows.

Cube
Reply to  Patrick MJD
November 21, 2019 5:20 am

OMG

Reply to  Patrick MJD
November 21, 2019 10:11 am

Cube,
The robot is looping back and answering itself

Bob boder
Reply to  Patrick MJD
November 21, 2019 12:06 pm

actually Patrick you are the only one that doesn’t know

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Patrick MJD
November 22, 2019 3:42 am

Really? Have you been to these worlds?

Patrick
Reply to  Robert of Texas
November 20, 2019 9:34 am

Titan has been bathed in far greater amounts of ambient hydrogen over the past four billion years, and is located well past the ice line. The protoplanetary disc would favor hydrogen binding to any other atom before they could interact with more rare elements. Only after solar ignition would there be a mechanism for stripping off hydrogen from the planetary surface of the inner system.

Oxygen is thus all locked up as water ice, leaving the hydrocarbons unperturbed.

November 19, 2019 10:43 pm

Well that’s the light hydrocarbon exploration problem solved.
Just a matter of organising the cryogenic collection, transport and delivery process.
Engineers wanted, must be able to work off planet on extended contracts.

Scissor
Reply to  Philip Mulholland
November 20, 2019 5:59 am

And who needs a dry cleaner? Just hang your clothes out the window.

November 19, 2019 11:02 pm

Thats a geomorphology map, not geology, and it would have been much more informative if topographic hillshading had been added.

Steve
Reply to  Hans Erren
November 20, 2019 1:07 am

+1

Len Werner
Reply to  Steve
November 20, 2019 8:57 am

+2. My immediate reaction too; this is more geography than geology. (As is ‘climate science’ more arts than science, being most often a division of geography.)

But DM is right, it still is cool; not as cool to me as the images of Pluto, but cool. That’s a long way off for man to be mapping topography through a thick haze.

But cooler than that is the understanding that Titan is active; by the next time we do it this will be all changed.

BTW, I find the names applied to features around space just plain goofy. Xanadu??–really. All I needed to screw this up is an image of a disco-era Oblivious Neutron-Bomb.

Photios
Reply to  David Middleton
November 20, 2019 10:42 am

What was the geology class like?

tty
Reply to  David Middleton
November 20, 2019 6:33 am

The rock hammer would have to be somewhat exotic. An ordinary steel hammer would shatter the first time you took a bash with it at that temperature.

And the samples would vaporize and quite possibly burn or explode at room temperature.

MarkW
Reply to  David Middleton
November 20, 2019 7:35 am

Don’t drop it.

Rocketscientist
Reply to  tty
November 20, 2019 8:09 am

Not that exotic. Titanium, nickle, copper all maintain structural integrity and strength well below those temperatures. What do you think we make cryogenic systems out of? Not much gets colder than liquid helium, except solid helium and that’s only a few degrees colder. Yet, we can make exotic machines out of those and other materials that will get you to Titan where, alas, you will need a different type of compass.

Loren Wilson
Reply to  tty
November 20, 2019 9:59 am

They wouldn’t burn on Titan – no free oxygen. If you brought them back to the lab for analysis, perhaps. However, we will just send a couple of robots to collect and analyze the samples. No union wages needed.

Rocketscientist
Reply to  Loren Wilson
November 20, 2019 1:08 pm

Nobody there to fix them when they break, though.

PeterT
Reply to  David Middleton
November 20, 2019 8:09 am

David,
I’ve been fascinated with Titan forever. My dad was a petroleum Geologist, and was. too.
Is it possible that some types of hydrocarbons on earth came from a non-biological process?
(Not coal, obviously.) I know that we find oil and gas in porous carbonates and sandstone, but is it possible that it was formed by natural chemical processes, and just trapped by impermeable boundaries in porous ancient reefs, etc?

Julian Flood
Reply to  David Middleton
November 20, 2019 11:52 am

Dave Middleton,

I’d be grateful if you could give a pointer to information about thermal vents emission of light hydrocarbons. In return I can get you an image of light oil pollution of the ocean surface near the Lost City Hydrothermal Vent on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

Light oil pollution reduces cloud cover. Lower cloud cover increases surface warming. I suspect it might be worthwhile checking sea surface images for trends in vent oil pollution.

JF

JF

PeterT
Reply to  David Middleton
November 20, 2019 1:03 pm

David,
Thanks very much for your great reply, and reference to the links I hadn’t seen yet.

PeterT

Reply to  PeterT
November 20, 2019 9:44 am

PeterT,

Geologists have determined that Rock Oil (Petra Oleum) is biological in origin because of a range of confirming factors.
First is the requirement for source rocks, organic rich marine or lacustrine shales that have been pressure heated to convert the organic material into mobile hydrocarbon fluids.
All rock oils contain biomarkers, complex organic molecules that fingerprint the oil and link the hydrocarbon fluid back to the unique biological profile of the source rock.
Brick clays are also relevant to this story. In order to fire a brick, it must have a component of organic matter mixed with the clay. Often brick clays are formed from water swamped organic rich forest soils.

Pitchblende is a unique organic material of inorganic origin. It is associated with naturally occurring radioactive minerals. It is formed by radioactive induced polymerisation of methane gas and therefore is the only example of a purely naturally produced inorganic hydrocarbon.

Scissor
Reply to  Philip Mulholland
November 20, 2019 11:07 am

Thanks. Learn something new everyday.

I’m looking at a reference that says the carbon in pitchblende is thought to be a result of radiolytic polymerization of primativ algal or bacterial remains.

PeterT
Reply to  Philip Mulholland
November 20, 2019 1:10 pm

Thank you Philip. I definitely did not know that.

Patrick
Reply to  PeterT
November 20, 2019 10:03 am

Primordial hydrocarbons and water have been stripped of hydrogen from billions of years of solar radiation. Sure, our magnetosphere does a great job, but it isn’t 100%.

commieBob
November 19, 2019 11:27 pm

This has no relevance to how hydrocarbons formed on Earth …

Hydrocarbons formed on Titan and other bodies and we presume the process was abiotic. So, somewhere in the solar system, there are abiotic processes that lead to the creation of hydrocarbons. link

The problem becomes one of explaining why hydrocarbons formed elsewhere in the solar system without biology but somehow that didn’t happen on Earth.

It seems obvious that peat led to lignite led to hard coal. link We can extrapolate and assume that oil and natural gas are the result of biological processes too. On the other hand is there any reason to think that all natural gas must be the result of biological processes?

Chaswarnertoo
Reply to  commieBob
November 20, 2019 12:05 am

Yep. No reason to believe Earth hydrocarbons are all formed biologically, just because some are.

Scissor
Reply to  David Middleton
November 20, 2019 6:03 am

Not necessarily petroleum related, but don’t forget methanogenic bacteria.

pochas94
Reply to  commieBob
November 20, 2019 12:10 am

Best to leave hydrocarbon formation an open question for now.

Reply to  commieBob
November 20, 2019 12:25 am

“is there any reason to think that all natural gas must be the result of biological processes?”
commieBob
Not necessarily, however there are some interesting pathways to explore for the biological formation of methane in basalts using hydrogen gas as a feedstock derived from the chemical breakdown of water.

Bacterial communities were detected in deep crystalline rock aquifers within the Columbia River Basalt Group (CRB). CRB ground waters contained up to 60 μM dissolved H2 and autotrophic microorganisms outnumbered heterotrophs. Stable carbon isotope measurements implied that autotrophic methanogenesis dominated this ecosystem and was coupled to the depletion of dissolved inorganic carbon. In laboratory experiments, H2, a potential energy source for bacteria, was produced by reactions between crushed basalt and anaerobic water. Microcosms containing only crushed basalt and ground water supported microbial growth. These results suggest that the CRB contains a lithoautotrophic microbial ecosystem that is independent of photosynthetic primary production.

Stevens, T.O. and James P. McKinley, J.P. 1995 Lithoautotrophic Microbial Ecosystems in Deep Basalt Aquifers. Science 20 Oct 1995: Vol. 270, Issue 5235, pp. 450-455

Life on Titan & Mars perhaps?

Michael S. Kelly LS, BSA Ret.
Reply to  David Middleton
November 20, 2019 7:46 am

“Methane can form in many ways, ranging from directly biogenic to totally abiogenic.”

Back in the late 1990s, I started a company in SoCal to turn “green waste” into “natural gas” (i.e. methane). In all of my thousands of thermochemical calculations, it became apparent to me that methane was the preferred end state of any combination of hydrogen and carbon in any of their source compounds. Every experiment we did confirmed that.

My approach was to pyrolyze wood waste into charcoal (recovering various volatiles, especially acetic acid, for sale), then combine the finely divided charcoal with steam to produce methane and carbon dioxide. It worked pretty well.

Of course, the only reason it would have been profitable was that California governments paid “green waste” disposers $20 a ton to get rid of the stuff. Putting that in our income stream made the prospect profitable. Otherwise, it was a deadass loser.

Scissor
Reply to  Michael S. Kelly LS, BSA Ret.
November 20, 2019 10:51 am

Tipping fees in California are now about 3 times that.

Michael S. Kelly LS, BSA Ret.
Reply to  Michael S. Kelly LS, BSA Ret.
November 20, 2019 2:06 pm

That’s still not enough of an incentive for me to move back and try that business again.

Don K
Reply to  commieBob
November 20, 2019 12:52 am

CB: There’s no particular reason to think that hydrocarbons didn’t form on the early Earth. So far as we know, there are no sedimentary deposits remaining dating from the first half billion years of the Earth’s life although there are a few isolated Zircon crystals from that timeframe. And the few sediments that remain from the next billion years or so tend to be substantially altered in ways that would probably be hard on hydrocarbons. Keep in mind that heat and pressure tend on average to convert complex hydrocarbons to simpler forms. Eventually to methane

Also, once life forms appeared, however that happened, they very likely ate a lot of any existing hydrocarbons just as they tend to do with loose hydrocarbons on the modern Earth. We don’t know for sure how life appeared on Earth, but we’re pretty sure it happened 3.77 billion years ago and possibly earlier.

So far as I know, the oldest known hydrocarbon deposits (3.2-2.6 Billion years old) appear to be biotic, but I don’t see any reason to think that both biotic and abiotic hydrocarbons weren’t around long before that.

There are rather a lot of processes identified that could generate organics from simple precursors under conditions that MIGHT have existed on the early Earth. Miller-Urey is probably the best know. But many others have been proposed.

If I recall correctly Rud Istvan has posted in comments several times that there are a few natural gas seeps that appear to be modern (?) abiotic gas. (But no known massive, commercially exploitable deposits?). I’ve never looked into the claims. But I don’t see any reason not to think they might not be credible.

tty
Reply to  commieBob
November 20, 2019 6:37 am

The carbon isotope ratios in natural gas indicates a biological origin. Incidentally this is even true of at least some of the coal in diamonds, showing that subduction can carry surface materials down quite deeply.

Steve Reddish
Reply to  tty
November 20, 2019 9:18 am

Time required for diamonds to travel from depths where pressure is sufficient for their production, to the surface, far exceeds lifespan of detectable C14.

MarkW
Reply to  David Middleton
November 20, 2019 3:55 pm

C13 isn’t the only isotope of carbon.

tty
Reply to  David Middleton
November 21, 2019 9:34 am

Perhaps an explanation is in order here since there is apparently a great deal of confusion.

There are two stable carbon isotopes: 12C and 13C. Organisms tend to preferentially use the lighter 12C isotope. The difference is small but measurable so the 12C/13C quotient can be used to identify carbon with an organic origin.

14C is not involved.

MarkW
Reply to  commieBob
November 20, 2019 7:37 am

Any hydrocarbons in the atmosphere would have been destroyed as soon as free oxygen started existing in the atmosphere.
The idea that there are hug pools of hydrocarbons inside the planet is nonsense for two basic reasons.
1) Lighter stuff floats to the surface. Methane is much lighter than rocks and metals.
2) The intense heat of the early earth would have destroyed it.

Don K
Reply to  MarkW
November 20, 2019 4:47 pm

MarkW: “Any hydrocarbons in the atmosphere would have been destroyed as soon as free oxygen started existing in the atmosphere.”

That’s probably pretty much true. BUT, it seems likely that the oceans on the early Earth contained vast amounts of dissolved Iron. Iron oxides are insoluble. It looks like once Oxygen started to form, it probably almost immediately combined with Iron to form a variety of Iron compounds — Hematite (rust) of course. And Magnetite, and a bunch of more exotic stuff. So a lot of the really old sediments on Earth are so-called Banded Iron Formations. Typically those are rocks composed of alternate bands of red iron stained material and bands of something else. Most commercial Iron ores are BIFs.

Anyway, it’s possible that not a lot of Oxygen made it out of the oceans where early photosynthetic organisms presumably lived into the atmosphere. At least not until the dissolved iron was depleted. Which, we’re pretty sure, took many hundreds of millions of years..

BTW, There’s a lot more to BIFs than the short explanation above.

HD Hoese
November 19, 2019 11:45 pm

Neat “icy cobblestones.” Not exactly hard rock geology?

Reply to  HD Hoese
November 20, 2019 12:28 am

HD House
Snow is a sedimentary precipitate.

John Tillman
Reply to  HD Hoese
November 20, 2019 8:01 am

Water ice on the surface of Titan is a hard rock.

zemlik
November 20, 2019 1:31 am

why so few craters ?

Reply to  zemlik
November 20, 2019 3:57 am

“why so few craters ?”
zemlik
Two possible related geological reasons:
1. Because Titan has a thick atmosphere with an active meteorological process involving wind and liquid methane rain. On Earth impact craters are eroded by water and filled with solid sand (SiO2) sediments. We should expect to find that on Titan impact craters are eroded by liquid methane and filled with solid water ice (H2O) and dry ice (CO2) sediments.
2. Because Titan has a solid water ice crust covering an ocean of liquid water. On Earth we have a solid rock crust covering a mantle of hot plastic rocks. These Earth rocks can melt to create liquid lavas that reach the surface and fill in the surface impacts. On Titan the crust is solid water ice and below is hot liquid water. If an impact breaks the crust on Titan then the crater will be filled in with liquid water “lava” before it cools and freezes solid.

john cooknell
November 20, 2019 3:03 am

The Green Blob don’t like talk about Hydrocarbons other than linked to something called “fossil fuels” which we all know are the root of all evil!

It makes the Green’s nervous, when something goes against their beliefs. They will protest and say this is not the Truth, such science must be stopped.

But even Saint Attenborough in his Blue Planet sermon, stated that Hydrocarbons were forming in the “smokers” in the depths of the ocean. “How dare he” say such a thing.

David Blenkinsop
November 20, 2019 3:36 am

So, Titan, the one place in our solar system with an “earthlike’ atmosphere density and exposed liquids, is also way ‘down’ there in an entirely different temperature regime! To me, it seems like Mother Nature’s little joke on us, that we can’t physically go there without melting right into the landscape, like so many “hot” godzillas! Go into the ‘lake’ and the lake starts boiling all around you! What a day at the beach!

BC
November 20, 2019 3:48 am

Why isn’t it on fire? Presumably there are ignition sources, such as lightning and geological activity. Is there no oxygen?

Scissor
Reply to  David Middleton
November 20, 2019 6:08 am

A Dewar of liquid oxygen with a valve and nozzle could make a simple flamethrower there.

Peter
Reply to  Scissor
November 21, 2019 5:55 am

Actually boiling point of oxygen is -183C at 1bar, there is 1.45bar pressure on Titan. Oxygen boils at this pressure at around -168C. Temperature on Titan is 179C. So it looks that Oxygen is liquid under normal circumstances on Titan. You can use normal canisters as for fuel 🙂

Reply to  BC
November 20, 2019 5:34 am

BC
One of the fun (and potentially dangerous) experiments we were shown in chemistry class at school in the 1960s was the creation of a flame of air burning inside a Perspex box filled with methane gas. We think of the methane as being a dangerous flammable gas, but in truth it is the oxygen in the air we live in which is the reactive agent that creates the flame. So, on Earth we pipe methane into our homes to create flames in air. On Titan the process is would be reversed and the pipes would carry oxygen to the flame of burning gas in the air of methane and nitrogen.

tty
Reply to  BC
November 20, 2019 6:43 am

Free oxygen is rare in the Universe. That it is common on Earth is due to life. It is produced as a byproduct of photosynthesis. A very small proportion of the hydrocarbons produced by photosynthesis get buried (e g as peat, coal, kerogen, oil, natural gas). This leaves the corresponding amount of oxygen in the atmosphere.

Greg61
November 20, 2019 4:37 am

Don’t know about the rest of you but my take away from this post was that we should start preparing our defenses against attack from methane / ethane based organisms with superior technology.

Don K
Reply to  Greg61
November 20, 2019 5:30 am

Why would they want to invade an extremely hot world with a corrosive atmosphere of 20% Oxygen and lakes of corrosive Hydrogen Dioxide? It’d be like us invading Venus where the longest our “superior technology” has lasted to date is 2 hours and seven minutes.

OweninGA
Reply to  Don K
November 20, 2019 5:57 am

dihydrogen monoxide, but we get your point.

Scissor
Reply to  Don K
November 20, 2019 6:11 am

You mean dihydrogen monoxide, I presume.

tty
Reply to  Don K
November 20, 2019 6:50 am

Even worse than Venus is for us. It would be like us invading a planet with an atmosphere consisting of a mixture of superheated steam and chlorine.

Disputin
Reply to  Don K
November 20, 2019 6:53 am

Hydrogen Dioxide? Surely you mean Dihydrogen monoxide?

Sara
Reply to  Disputin
November 20, 2019 7:10 am

Hydrogen hydroxide. HOH aka H2O aka so corrosive, it will eat all your robots and turn them into drifting particles of oxydized metal.

When the first satellite orbited Titan, there was a discovery of a large lake that had islands showing during one season, and then they were flooded in another season. So Titan, with Saturn’s help, has seasonal changes, just like the other planets. Might be some useful compounds on Titan, too.

Tom in Florida
November 20, 2019 5:52 am

H02?

Pat Frank
Reply to  Tom in Florida
November 20, 2019 11:03 am

HO2 is hydropyroxyl radical.

Very reactive, and one of the metabolic attack dogs that cause the 1000 or so mutations per day per cell in your body. Several 9’s of which get repaired right away.

Tom Abbott
November 20, 2019 6:07 am

One of these days humans are going to know all about these moons and planets. The progress we have made in my lifetime is just amazing.

We’re trailblazing!

beng135
November 20, 2019 7:59 am

One thing cool about Titan is you could walk on the surface without a pressure suit. Of course you’d need an oxygen-mask & some VERY warm clothing…..

tty
Reply to  beng135
November 20, 2019 9:26 am

You would have to have extremely well insulated clothing. Otherwise everything you touched would evaporate and if you stood still you would slowly sink into the ground.

Peter
Reply to  tty
November 21, 2019 6:52 am

You don’t sink into ice on Earth even if it is just 0C. Even less when it is colder like -30C.

November 20, 2019 8:00 am

I wish we had a landformation here on earth called “Labyrinth”. Sounds fun.

tty
Reply to  Jeff in Calgary
November 20, 2019 9:30 am

We have, in Antarctica:

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/00288306.1977.10420689

Probably caused by jökulhlaups from Lake Vostok.

Dergy
Reply to  Jeff in Calgary
November 21, 2019 7:45 pm

We do Jeff. Oyo Labyrinth

bonbon
November 20, 2019 8:26 am

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array ALMA microwave telescope :
https://alma-telescope.jp/en/news/press/band10-201811
Stellar nebulas, presumably like the one this system formed from , are full of hydrocarbons, a list at the link.
Have a look at the Cats Paw spectrum.

As planets form it sure seems like this stuff gets concentrated. Anyway before life got started it looks like the necessary stuff just happened to be available.

Strangely enough the Large Megallanic Cloud example has much less methanol than a main galactic one.

There is much more to this story…

Observer
November 20, 2019 10:04 am

Did anyone notice this?

“Williams worked with the JPL team to identify what geologic units on Titan could be determined using first the radar images and then to extrapolate those units to the non-radar-covered regions.”

So some portion of this map is at best an educated guess…at worst, just made up. I didn’t spend any time looking deeper, so don’t know how good the non-radar-covered data might be. It just set off an alarm bell when my skeptical mind saw this sentence…

chemman
Reply to  David Middleton
November 20, 2019 2:26 pm

Well that still is better than a WAG (Wild A.. Guess)

bonbon
Reply to  Observer
November 20, 2019 11:41 am

Look at the quantity of the stuff ALMA has found in stellar nebulas.

The darned galaxy is full of hydrocarbons, never mind all that H2 they cannot optically see.

OMG – we have to clear the Galaxy of CH4 , better call Greta quick!

Jim Whelan
November 21, 2019 8:54 am

Plate tectonics is probably the most significant aspect of earth’s geology, not erosion. Is there any evidence of such processes on Titan? The map doesn’t seem to indicate any.

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