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Is There a Subsurface Water Ocean On Titan?

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the underground-swimming-pools-are-the-best dept.

NASA 57

Stirling Newberry writes "Luciano Iess and team have hypothesized that Titan joins Earth, Europa, and Ganymede as ocean worlds. They measured the size of the tidal bulges and found that the moon is likely not solid (abstract). Team member Jonathan Lunine points out that Titan's methane atmosphere is not stable, so it needs some source, perhaps from outgassing. On Earth, water means life, and in the future, ice covered ocean worlds are targets for human colonization. As the late Arthur C. Clarke observed, water is the most precious substance in the universe to humans."

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I find this subject... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40499445)

quite tittilating!

Betteridge's Law of Headlines (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40499451)

I hope this is an exception.

Re:Betteridge's Law of Headlines (1)

snowraver1 (1052510) | more than 2 years ago | (#40499541)

No.

Re:Betteridge's Law of Headlines (1)

Stirling Newberry (848268) | more than 2 years ago | (#40499673)

Journalism is in the business of supplying easy wrong answers, science in the business of asking the right hard questions.

Re:Betteridge's Law of Headlines (5, Informative)

docmordin (2654319) | more than 2 years ago | (#40499899)

It most likely is an exception.

The idea of a subsurface ocean on Titan is nothing new and surfaces in the geophysics/geoscience literature every so often. For example, when Voyager I passed by the moon, it detected an abundance of only 3% (mole fraction) of CH4, which is sufficiently low to preclude the stable coexistence of liquid CH4 on the surface. Lunine, et al. ("Ethane ocean on Titan", Science, 222, 1229-1230, 1983) suggested that Titan's atmospheric CH4 may have broken down by a catalyzed photochemical reaction to C2H6, with the C2H6 stemming from a subsurface ocean; the resulting deep ocean would consist of a 3:1 mixture of C2H6 and CH4. (To explain, the dissociation steps of C2H6 involve loss of hydrogen by escape, with the postulated set reactions: 2CH4 -> C2H6 + H2 and 2CH4 -> C2H6 + 2H. The intermediate molecule C2H2 plays the role of catalysis and shielding of C2H6 from photolysis. Furthermore, CH4 would break down at a rate of 1.5*10^10cm^-2/s and H/H2 would leave the atmosphere at 5.5*10^9 and 7*10^9cm^-2/s, which is consistent with Hanel, et al.'s analysis ("Infrared observations of the Saturnian system from Voyager I", Science, 212, 192-200, 1981). As such, it is reasonable to conclude that the result is a production of an CH4-rich ocean of 1km depth and a 100-200km thick layer of solid C2H2 on Titan's ocean floor).

For additional analyses, see: F. M. Flasar, "Oceans on Titan?", Science, 221, 55-57, 1983; O. B. Toon, et al., "Methane rain on Titan", Icarus, 75, 255-284, 1988; N. Dubouloz, et al., "Titan's hypothesized ocean properties: The influence of surface temperature and atmospheric composition uncertanties", Icarus, 82, 81-96, 1989; W. R. Thompson, et al., "Vapor-liquid equilibrium thermodynamics of N2 + CH4: Model and Titan applications", Icarus, 97, 187-199, 1992.

FYI:Betteridge's Law of Headlines (2, Informative)

camperdave (969942) | more than 2 years ago | (#40500299)

Betteridge's Law of Headlines is an adage that states, "Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word 'no'".

Re:FYI:Betteridge's Law of Headlines (1)

kdemetter (965669) | more than 2 years ago | (#40501899)

"Why do vacuum clear suck ? "

Has a question mark, but can't really be answered with yes or no.
I see it more like : any headline, which poses a question which can be answered with yes or no , is not really worth the read.

Which makes sense : If it can't even answer a question with yes or no, what can it answer ?
Reading the above headline tells you right away, they don't know if there is surface water on titan. Otherwise it would have been an assertive statement "Surface water on Titan !"

They should change the headline to : "scientists researching possibility of water on Titan" , which would be accurate ( but I guess it wouldn't sell ).

Re:Betteridge's Law of Headlines (1)

kdemetter (965669) | more than 2 years ago | (#40501861)

I thought it , posted it in almost the same way, and then realized someone else had posted it earlier :-)
Guess I should read comments before replying.

Re:Betteridge's Law of Headlines (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40503847)

It's not an exception.
It's still a non proved hypothesis, hence the question mark.

Cassini (5, Insightful)

Stirling Newberry (848268) | more than 2 years ago | (#40499475)

One of the great accomplishments of this probe is that it has turned Titan from a world which, like Venus, was shrouded in a dense atmosphere, and therefore a mystery, to a dynamic and fascinating target for exploration in its own right. Imagining a probe that could function on its surface is a fascinating exercise.

Re:Cassini (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40502905)

The cool thing is that Titan is a good target for a flying balloon probe. It has a thick atmosphere made of non-corrosive substances, and apparently rather little wind near the surface. The mobility of a probe like that would put even the MSL to shame.

I'll go look (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40499495)

BBIAB

Who cares (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40499535)

Not like it will make a difference in 99.9% of the population of the world in the first place.
Just another bloated government agency, wanting more money for more research that won't
do anyone any good.

Re:Who cares (1)

snowraver1 (1052510) | more than 2 years ago | (#40499577)

Yea, fuck that reasearch stuff! It only helps the top .1% while the rest of us aimlessly wander the wilderness.

Re:Who cares (2)

Stirling Newberry (848268) | more than 2 years ago | (#40499599)

Undergraduates no longer need research, now that the net has provided search that even undergrads can use.

Search != research (1)

Alwin Henseler (640539) | more than 2 years ago | (#40500379)

Although some may call it such (and in some contexts it might qualify), don't confuse searching the web with "research". At least not in the scientific sense.

Search = discover things that others discovered before.
Research = discover things that no-one else discovered before.

Re:Search != research (1)

ukemike (956477) | more than 2 years ago | (#40609753)

Undergraduates no longer need research, now that the net has provided search that even undergrads can use.

Although some may call it such (and in some contexts it might qualify), don't confuse searching the web with "research". At least not in the scientific sense.

I think you left your irony detector at home.

Re:Search != research (1)

bdabautcb (1040566) | more than 2 years ago | (#40617563)

Cynically, I have to say... Research into things that no-one has discovered before = long hours in tedium with little funding. Research into discovering patentable medical devices/techniques that will bring profit to your institution = tenure and unlimited funding. To qualify this post, I am an ecologist at a major university in a large city with a huge interest in biomedical companies, I'll let you guess where that is. I am just a little upset that it takes me weeks (or months) to get a set of direly needed pipettors while the undergrad's in the pre-med labs seem to get new sets weekly. Granted they break them weekly because they don't know what they're doing, but can't I get a new set and give them my older one that works (but is not able to be calibrated precisely? If the undergrads get a result skewed because they missed a measurement by 3~4 microlitres, they're still learning the concept. If I do, it means re-working an entire sample set.

Re:Who cares (4, Interesting)

Stirling Newberry (848268) | more than 2 years ago | (#40499655)

Since statistically speaking, many of that 99.9% hold a creationist view of the earth, it won't make a difference, but it really should. Imagine for a moment life that might exist near hot vents in a Titanian inner ocean, which would teach us more about the possibilities, or lack their of, for life in a myriad of environments, than we have learned in all the time that science has existed at all. Consider that of the large icy bodies, more of them are potential harbors for life than the rocky bodies, and the earth has life in water under ice as well. From what we know of exo-planets, ice-ocean worlds might be far more numerous havens for life than atmospheric rocky worlds.

Re:Who cares (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40501105)

I'll tell that to all the homeless people I see on my way to work, and especially to the elderly couple I've been seeing more often at the subway station, lingering with a suitcase.

And no, this is not a flame bait, but a pure sarcasm, to point out how fucked up the situation is, and as if we're really getting something beneficial out of these expenditures.

Re:Who cares (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40501629)

Since statistically speaking, many of that 99.9% hold a creationist view of the earth, it won't make a difference, but it really should.

I don't see how this follows. Are you saying that "creationist" == "rejects extraterrestrial life"?
I've never heard of such a connection.

Re:Who cares (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 2 years ago | (#40509467)

... and on the seventh day, He rested. On the eighth day He got up early - He had Mars & all the bloody asteroids to do.

Seriously, it would rather put dampers on the belief that we're somehow His special favorites, wouldn't it?

Re:Who cares (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40608641)

I think you don't understand the mechanics of schizophrenia. Do you think they can simply "admit" being wrong?
The problem is, that their whole reality is built upon delusions.So destroying them, would equal loss of everything that makes sense of everything.
Imagine that... imagine not being able to tell whether throwing a stone into a window will still break it... whether you will still wake up tomorrow... imagine not being able to tell *anything*... how would you possible live in such a world? It would be death.

And in reality, if you *force* someone with schizophrenia into it, it will result in *actual* brain death. The brain will simply fire so much and hence change so much, trying to sustain some sense, while the only way left becomes to flee inside you, that they may very will still live, inside there, but you will never again be able to tell.
You might even have to turn of life support on a actually perfectly healthy human being because of that..
Even the thought of doing that to a person is a nightmare, isn't it?

The trick is, to go the other way. Accept them as they are, and offer all changes of their model of reality as something compatible with their delusions, and better than what they currently have (from their p.o.v.). They will be naturally dragged to it.You don't need to add any negative pressure, since all the naturally occurring dissonances will be more than enough to create a gradient.
Now if that person is not already nearly FUBAR like above anyway, she will instinctively move out of the mess...
And the more the new great concepts/views give her some hold, the more she can release the old stuff... without any fear or pressure... because the world doesn't make less sense, but MORE. And that is awesome. Literally.
Do it long enough, and the illness will simply dissolve. With a long tail But it will.

Now for the 10 billion dollar question: Where do you get the nerve power and time, to go through with this until the end?
Because if you can tell me such a infinitely nice, caring, loving and time-having person, I can guarantee you that we can cure pretty much every single case of that illness in the world.

Re:Who cares (1)

ukemike (956477) | more than 2 years ago | (#40609769)

Seriously, it would rather put dampers on the belief that we're somehow His special favorites, wouldn't it?

But we already know we aren't particular favorites Jesus/Aslan likes Narnia too!

Re:Who cares (1)

gmuslera (3436) | more than 2 years ago | (#40499695)

Think in fishing expedition. You can get nothing of it, or get something that could make a big difference, both for what you can make/find/bring from there, or for something that could understand us or our planet better, or even for what we will learn just trying to get there. The side effects of just going into orbit definately did a difference for a good percent of population of the world, this could pay that much too.

If you worry only for today you could not have a future. What is the alternative? using money to finance banks? to bring entertainment? to finance bloated government agencies to demolish your privacy?

Re:Who cares (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40501237)

And the fallacy in your logic is that this work is not the result of bloated government agency.

Additionally, your entire analogy is bogus, unless you think we'll stumble upon the fountain of youth, or some alien technology that will convert dog poop into food. I can only assume you've watched to much sci-fi and earnestly believe what you wrote.

Re:Who cares (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 2 years ago | (#40499723)

Which is odd, because the one thing Titan has plenty of is hydrocarbons, so you would think it would be of very great interest in the long-term as a potential source.

Re:Who cares (2)

Teresita (982888) | more than 2 years ago | (#40499919)

One would think transporting oil a billion miles would cut into your profit margin.

Re:Who cares (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40500011)

The initial investment would be rough but it would take less fuel to ship a tanker of oil from Titan to the Earth then it does to ship it from Iraq to New Orleans.

Re:Who cares (4, Insightful)

Man On Pink Corner (1089867) | more than 2 years ago | (#40500059)

And we could get there for a lot less than it took to invade and occupy Iraq.

Re:Who cares (1)

EdIII (1114411) | more than 2 years ago | (#40503933)

Yes.... but being able to export our democracy to Iraq? Priceless.

Re:Who cares (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 2 years ago | (#40500307)

Right now it sure would, but write back in 75 or a 100 years, when we've exhausted most of our oil reserves and polluted most of the groundwater with fracking, and the price of oil reaches obscene heights, then it might make a lot more sense.

Re:Who cares (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#40500729)

Barring some major changes in rocket technology, not likely. We're not going to run out of oil (or, more accurately, various hydrocarbon sources of uneven quality, quantity and cost to produce) - we're just running out of the cheap stuff.

I can't imagine even if it gets pretty scarce, it would be cheaper to drag stuff out of the middle of solar system and somehow get it back to the surface than it would be to dribble out small volumes of oil and gas from existing infrastructure.

Besides, warp drives don't work in system, right?

Re:Who cares (1)

Hadlock (143607) | more than 2 years ago | (#40609709)

We already have technology to extract oil from plants, and with little refinement, turn it in to bio diesel. There's already a process to turn solid plant matter in to crude oil - but it's only price competitive at $120/gallon. Lots and lots of alternative energy options are available - it's just that they aren't as cheap or cheaper than oil until oil hits the $120-200/barrel range. The "argument" against wind energy relies on the same principle.
 
Also, the US has something like 300 years worth of coal. We're the Saudi Arabia of coal.

Re:Who cares (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40501015)

It wouldn't have to be transported, the energy could be sent via lasers or microwaves.

Re:Who cares (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 2 years ago | (#40501327)

What are you going to use to oxidize it?

Re:Who cares (1)

Jeremi (14640) | more than 2 years ago | (#40502553)

One would think transporting oil a billion miles would cut into your profit margin.

Bah, transporting it back to Earth would be a waste of time -- instead I'll use it to power my space lab in space.

Re:Who cares (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 2 years ago | (#40500317)

Not like it will make a difference in 99.9% of the population of the world in the first place. Just another bloated government agency, wanting more money for more research that won't do anyone any good.

Sort of like Christopher Columbus' expedition, then.

Re:Who cares (1)

Jeremi (14640) | more than 2 years ago | (#40502573)

Sort of like Christopher Columbus' expedition, then.

The thing that made Columbus' expedition profitable was the discovery of vast amounts of human-compatible, habitable land that was (more or less) available for colonization, and also natural resources that were worth more what it cost to transport them back to Europe. It seems unlikely that either of those things will be found on Titan (which isn't to say people shouldn't try anyway).

easy to answer without needing spacecraft (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40499543)

From Betteridge's Law [wikipedia.org] : there is no subsurface water ocean on Titan.

QED.

Re:easy to answer without needing spacecraft (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40499739)

I was actually going for +5 (funny), but oh well.

Bah, who needs water (3, Funny)

haruchai (17472) | more than 2 years ago | (#40499573)

We need spice!! Call me when we find a desert planet populated by giant worms.

But the spice must flow. (2)

MRe_nl (306212) | more than 2 years ago | (#40499661)

Is there a subsurface water ocean on Arrakis?

Re:But the spice must flow. (1)

newcastlejon (1483695) | more than 2 years ago | (#40499691)

If you count the Fremen's caches, then yes there is. They must have had quite a lot stored there if they thought they could change the face of their world.

Re:But the spice must flow. (1)

haruchai (17472) | more than 2 years ago | (#40499731)

The water was bound by the worms, IIRC. And the Fremen were using windtraps to capture what little free moisture there was in the air (thereby making it even dryer, I suppose)

The sleeper will awaken (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40500487)

I can't believe I got out of bed for this.

Re:The sleeper will awaken (1)

bdabautcb (1040566) | more than 2 years ago | (#40617583)

You will when you see the coming of Muad'dib

Re:Bah, who needs water (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40501407)

Saturn?

Ice-covered ocean world=target4human colonization? (1)

D4C5CE (578304) | more than 2 years ago | (#40499675)

Less so with a methane atmosphere.

Yes, no (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40499795)

maybe

Where to live? (1)

kstahmer (134975) | more than 2 years ago | (#40500071)

On Titan, where surface temperature hovers at 94 K, or on Earth, where Octomom makes masturbation porn videos.

Re:Where to live? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40500167)

I bet 94K in an atmosphere is a lot colder than 3K in empty space.

Re:Where to live? (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 2 years ago | (#40500349)

I bet 94K in an atmosphere is a lot colder than 3K in empty space.

Reminds me of the joke: There were two monkeys in a bathtub, and one says "OO-oo-EE-ee-AH-ah!" and the other says, "Well add some cold water, then"

But (1)

rossdee (243626) | more than 2 years ago | (#40501471)

Europa is a lot closer
(and we know it does have an ice covered ocean
and lower gravity too - easier to get the water off the moon and into space.

Once the technology and social structure (1)

Stirling Newberry (848268) | more than 2 years ago | (#40504101)

for living under ice surface is developed, people will naturally want to spread out to others, or even make more. Since the 1960's for example, there have been papers on a glacial period as part of terraforming mars, since the ice sheet will protect the development of micro-organisms from UV and other forms of radiation until such time as there is enough outgassing to have a atmosphere that will do the job.

In the Saturn system, there is another candidate for a sub surface ocean: Enceladus, which has been the subject of speculation about life. Titan, however, has the additional advantage of being known to be rich in the sources for organic chemistry.

Betteridge's Law of Headlines (1)

kdemetter (965669) | more than 2 years ago | (#40501851)

No.

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