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Saturn’s Moon Titan, ANWR of the Future

There’s so many reasons Titan is just darn cool.

Discovered in 1655, the Saturn moon is the second biggest moon in our solar system (beat out only by Jupiter‘s Ganymede). It’s also the only moon known to have a planet-like atmosphere, complete with clouds, a cool fact that unfortunately meant its surface long remained a big, chilly mystery wrapped in a hazy enigma.

Then came the Cassini-Huygens probe, which reached the Saturnian system in 2004 and began sending back detailed looks under the moon’s veil.

In 2006 Cassini images revealed Titan to be the only body in our solar system other than Earth to have lakes—albeit lakes full of liquid methane.

Now comes more cool news from Cassini: Those lakes show distinct changes over time, supporting theories that Titan has a methane cycle similar to Earth’s water cycle.

saturn-lakes.jpg

—Image courtesy NASA/CICLOPS

The implication of changing lakes is that they are being filled with methane rain, an idea previously suggested by ground-based observations.

NatGeo News contributor Rick Lovett will provide us with a full report tomorrow, so I won’t go into any more detail here.

[Dude, it's even cooler than I thought! Rick found out the pictures show methane rains actually created a new lake on Titan that's four times the size of Yellowstone.]

Instead, I will add the rather amusing note that so far the only comment on the Cassini page announcing this news is from a poster who thinks intense interest in methane on Titan is being driven by political and economic aims to find new sources of fuel.

Wha?

From the comment:

“Most carbon was removed from the terrestrial environment circulating in ancient times during the Carboniferous when fossil fuels were laid down. As a result, the digging of coal and pumping of oil out of the ground should be viewed as a good thing, a part of what is called Reclamation here in the United States.”

I sit blinking in astonishment.

Given the vast distance between us and Saturn (~820 million miles away) and the difficulties and expense of even getting humans to the moon (~230,000 miles away), I can’t see Titan becoming the next Arctic National Wildlife Refuge anytime soon.

earth-saturn.jpg

—Image courtesy NASA/CICLOPS

Of course, since my entire existence seems tied to Futurama, I’d hope that future space miners would build tankers for transporting all that methane off Titan with enough hulls, and thus not endanger the penguin preserve on Pluto

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