To Sail the Methane Sea

From Centauri Dreams:

Ever since I was a kid watching Adventures in Paradise on TV, I’ve had a yen for islands, the more remote the better. The show had quite a pull on a young imagination, as skipper Gardner McKay sailed the waters of French Polynesia in his schooner, turning up beautiful women and adventure at most every port. The thought of someday threading through the Tuamotus or setting out for Nuku Hiva and the Marquesas made my spirit soar, and to this day my fascination with maps is undiminished.

So you can imagine how I studied the image below, and the kind of speculations it triggered. Because when you look at a map, you try to put yourself there in your mind, and perhaps no islands are more challenging to imagine than the ones pictured here. The work of San Diego middle school teacher Peter Minton (and thanks to Frank Taylor for the pointer), they’re based on Cassini imagery peering through the murk of Titan’s atmosphere at what seems to be an island group in a methane sea. Assuming, of course, that the methane/ethane mix is something more than sludge, but this is where the imagination has its own work to do.

Saturn’s moon Titan is certainly an oddity in the Outer Solar System. Unlike most moons that are rocky worlds with their atmosphere frozen onto their surface, Titan has a thick, cloudy almost smog-like covering hiding its features. Through the studies of the Cassini probe and its child that landed on Titan’s geography (it actually has one) Huygens, it was found Titan has a frigid temperature (-290 degrees F ( -179 degrees C)) that prohibits liquid water, it has weather, topography, rivers, seas and other features that are unique only to Earth.

Of course instead of water, rocky components and a climate, Titan has methane, hydrocarbons, a rocky terrain and a climate.

It is also theorized that Titan resembles the infant Earth a billion years after its formation. The abundance of chemicals that compose DNA are all over the place, so the possibility of primitive life is there say astrobiologists.

Could life be found on these ‘islands’ in the seas of Titan? Until we have the money, the political will or if private companies find a way of exploiting the hydrocarbon resources economically, it’s likely we won’t know until then.

Of Islands and the Imagination


9 responses

  1. Sir Arthur C. Clarke in his 1972 novel, Imperial Earth, used Titan as a back-drop to the plot. One part that caught my attention was the main character’s family made their fortune by ‘mining’ Titan’s atmosphere for its hydrocarbons.

    Fiction becoming fact.

  2. Hi dad2059…

    Sailing the “methane sea” is definitely not an enterprise for chronic smokers…

    But there’s more…! Since there’s no air; ie., oxygen component they are safe…! :))

    A link to everything you may or may not want to know about methane.

    Carl Nemo **==

  3. Carl: I wondered if that was the case or not since fires on good ol’ Terra requires O2.

    The oil companies have to be smacking their lips at the possibility of mining Titan for its hydrocarbons. Extreme outer solar system distances and the time factor excludes it, for now.

    Never underestimate the human capacity for ingenuity when it comes to greed though.

  4. The Highwayman | Reply

    Not one of my first picks as a vacation spot, that’s for sure!

  5. HW: Not even for methane sea-skiing? LOL!

  6. Hi dad2059…

    The transportatiaon and storage of LNG (Liquified natural gas) is one of the most hazardous endeavors known in the energy sector. They’ve had extreme difficulty in obtaining siting locations for storage of this liquified gas and even the ships entering a harbor near densely populated areas poses extreme hazard especially in the age of rampant terrorism. Most city planners frown upon becoming involved with LNG; ie., methane.

    It’s a superb, fairly clean burning fuel that has high heat value, but’s even more dangerous than propane to handle due to it’s lower flashpoint.

    So I can see it now. A behemoth LNG supertanker coming back from Titan holding the equivalent of a dozen modern supertankers of “liquified” methane. Crazy, future terrorists hijack the ship and then threaten to send it’s contents into the New World Order Captiol in Beijing. /: ) The tanker is modularized in that it’s entire load is divided into separate containers for delivery to various parts of the earth, so they have multiple LNG weapons to send into the earth. Btw, outside of a small nuclear detonation nothing is quite the equal of an LNG explosion. Truly awesome indeed…!

    Of course none of this isn’t going to happen because we are flat, dead broke as a nation and soon won’t even be able to buy gasoline on a day to day basis because it will be $5+ bucks per gallon. That’s why I’m so eager to see the diesel/electric hybrids hit the market with their promised 80 plus mile per gallon capabilities.

    Carl Nemo **==

  7. That’s why I’m so eager to see the diesel/electric hybrids hit the market with their promised 80 plus mile per gallon capabilities.

    Sounds nice in theory, but who can afford to buy the damn things? Other than doctors, lawyers, gov’t bureaucrats, military-industrial-complex and politicians, we slaves can’t afford $5/gal. gas or that eco-tech.

    It’s either a bicycle or Mr. Natural for me.

    I kinda like Mr. Natural’s way anyways. 😎

  8. Crazy, future terrorists hijack the ship and then threaten to send it’s contents into the New World Order Captiol in Beijing. /: )

    Now that’s funny! ROTFLMAO!!! |-D

  9. My apologies for the typo on Capitol… ; )

    Nemo **==

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