Just How Significant Is Methane On Titan?

Sep 12, 2005

Titan's second most abundant constituent, methane, is critical to the maintenance of an earth-like nitrogen atmosphere on this satellite. Without methane, Titan's nitrogen would condense, leaving behind a puny amount in the atmosphere.

Source of Titan's methane

The Sun's ultraviolet light should have destroyed methane in approximately ten million years-a fraction of Titan's age. Some process must be producing methane lost to photolysis. Unlike the deep, dense atmospheres of the giant planets where the photoproducts of methane are cooked in their hydrogen-rich interiors to produce methane back, photoproducts of Titan's methane do not meet the same fate.

Hence, methane came in as methane clathrates during Titan's formation, or it is manufactured in situ in Titan's interior. Noble gas data tend to favor the latter process that is based on serpentinization.

I consider low temperature serpentinization as a very promising source of methane on Titan. It occurs in terrestrial oceans, e.g. in Lost City 15-20 km from spreading centers where Black Smokers are sighted.

The process involves water-rock reactions. The type of rocks and temperatures needed are expected to exist in Titan's interior also.

In this process, hydrogen (H2) is released in the hydration of iron or magnesium rich rocks (ultramafic silicates), and this H2 then combines with carbon dioxide or carbon in crustal pores to produce methane. Methane so produced could be "stored" as clathrate in Titan's interior for later release to the atmosphere, or the process could be going on even now.

Biology as a source of methane on Titan is not supported by the data.

Copyright 2005 by Space Daily, Distributed United Press International

Explore further: A giant Pac-Man to gobble up space debris

Related Stories

Early Titan was a cold, hostile place for life

Jun 30, 2015

Titan is a mysterious orange-socked moon of Saturn that is exciting to astrobiologists because it has some of the same kinds of chemicals that were precursors to life on Earth. It also has a hydrological ...

Titan's surface dissolves like sinkholes on Earth

Jun 18, 2015

Saturn's moon Titan is home to seas and lakes filled with liquid hydrocarbons, but what makes the depressions they lie in? A new study suggests that the moon's surface dissolves in a similar process that ...

The protein problem

Jun 17, 2015

The importance of proteins is difficult to overstate; they play a critical role in countless biological processes. An enhanced understanding of their structure and function is essential to advancing the state ...

Will we ever colonize Mars?

Jun 01, 2015

Mars. It's a pretty unforgiving place. On this dry, dessicated world, the average surface temperature is -55 °C (-67 °F). And at the poles, temperatures can reach as low as -153 °C (243 °F). Much of ...

What is lunar regolith?

May 29, 2015

When you're walking around on soft ground, do you notice how your feet leave impressions? Perhaps you've tracked some of the looser earth in your yard into the house on occasion? If you were to pick up some ...

Titan's atmosphere useful in study of hazy exoplanets

Apr 23, 2015

With more than a thousand confirmed planets outside of our solar system, astronomers are attempting to identify the atmospheres of these distant bodies to determine if they could possibly host life.

Recommended for you

A giant Pac-Man to gobble up space debris

14 minutes ago

The Clean Space One Project has passed a milestone. The space cleanup satellite will deploy a conical net to capture the small SwissCube satellite before destroying it in the atmosphere. It's one of the solutions ...

Astronomers see pebbles poised to make planets

1 hour ago

A team of astronomers led from St Andrews and Manchester universities today (6 July) announced the discovery of a ring of rocks circling a very young star. This is the first time these 'pebbles', thought ...

Do micro-organisms explain features on comets?

1 hour ago

Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, studied in detail by the European Space Agency Rosetta and Philae spacecraft since September 2014, is a body with distinct and unexpected features. Now two astronomers have ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.