View Full Version : Titan & hydrocarbon

2009-Feb-01, 12:34 PM

I have a question about hydrocarbons. As I understand it hydrocarbons on Earth are extracted from underground sediments (organic compounds see http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/organic/hydrocarbon.html) . Our energy sources on Earth afterall are referred to as 'fossil fuels'.

On Satun's moon Titan it is claimed that surface organics surpass oil reserves on Earth see: http://www.esa.int/esaSC/SEMCSUUHJCF_index_0.html)

My question is: does this mean that Titan has/had organic life in order to create these hydrocarbons, or are hydrocarbons not related to organic material?


2009-Feb-01, 03:28 PM
It does not mean that Titan had life to create the hydrocarbons.

There's a long thread somewhere (search) where the topic of the origin of Earth's fossil fuels was debated. I'm sure there were links to resources to learn more on that topic, and that may help clarify the situation with Titan.

2009-Feb-01, 07:57 PM
In this context, "organic" refers to the chemical structure of the compounds*, not their origin. There are many known abiotic processes, ie. processes that do not involve life, that produce organic compounds, and no need to invoke life to explan Titanian hydrocarbons.

* The organic compounds are those containing carbon, except for a few simple ones like carbon dioxide (CO2). The classification is rather arbitrary, but practical.

2009-Feb-01, 08:31 PM
The simplest organic compound is methane (CH4), made out of 4 of the most common element and 1 of the third most common element in the universe. It should be a pretty common compound. Basically any object in the universe should start out with some methane. When you are talking about small bodies that coalese far from a heat source, then the majority of the body should be methane (CH4), ammonia (NH3), and water (H2O).

Now if you add a bit of UV radiation, you start making CH3 NH2 and OH radicals and give off H. For a moon the H is generally going to be lost. The CH3 can then find another CH3 and form Ethane (C2H6). This process could continue on, giving larger Hydrocarbons, such as propane or butane.

This is basically an inorganic way to make Hydrocarbons

2009-Feb-01, 09:30 PM
Just to add to what korjik said, the hydrocarbons on Earth that we refer to as fossil fuels, such as crude oil and coal (not natural gas), are much more complex hydrocarbons than methane, ethane, propane or butane. It is doubtful that something like coal could be made without life (in that case, plant life).

2009-Feb-02, 08:27 PM
True! Hydrocarbons (organic molecules) existed here on Earth and throughout the universe long before life.

While life can produce organic molecules, the key point to remember is that life stems from organic molecules.