Methane rain on Titan

NASA's Cassini spacecraft snapped this infrared photo of equatorial rainfall on Titan (Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)

Spring has sprung on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, and that means rain showers. But not the kind of spring showers that bring flowers — on Titan it rains methane:

Instead of water, as on Earth, Titan’s cycles of precipitation, evaporation and cloud formation involve hydrocarbons such as methane and ethane, which at the extremes of cold on Titan pool as liquids in thousands of lakes around its north and south poles. Indeed, scientists estimate that Titan holds hundreds of times more liquid hydrocarbons than all the known oil and natural gas reserves on Earth.

Outer space may seem hostile to advanced life, but the solar system is rich in natural resources needed to survive. If we ever venture out into the solar system with long-term or permanent manned space missions, we should have little trouble availing ourselves of necessities like bulk building materials, hydrocarbon fuels, water, and oxygen.

Update: APOD has featured an artist’s conception of what it might look like from the surface of Titan (not very inviting).

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6 thoughts on “Methane rain on Titan

  1. “If”?

    When, dangnabbit!

    I think we should be spending our resources to get off this rock and colonizing the solar system ASAP.

    Then things like N.E.O.s won’t be as risky to the survival of the species.

  2. “If.” That’s the scientist in me — it’s possible we’ll never get off this rock permanently.

    But I fully agree with you that it’s time to get off our duffs and start making it happen.

  3. As long as we head out to some planet that does not have a methane rain problem… “This rain smells like ______” is not what I envision to hear in abundance on a planet we decide to colonize.

    But in all seriousness I was bummed out when the Earth 2 project had an embarrassing setback. It will take years and years to perfect the cupolas and the mini-ecosystems, but after that we also need to get on with delivery vehicles and that progress has totally been stumped now.

    Maybe I am wrong and the private sector focuses on the far-future interplanetary travel rather than tourist trips to the Earth’s orbit and back…

  4. It’s been stumped as far as government + big corporations is concerned, but there is promising stuff going on with smaller private companies developing delivery vehicles. Check out the short vid, “The Free Frontier,” and regain your faith in free enterprise.

  5. Bill Whittle is God’s gift to every person in this country who still has the can-do American spirit.

    As for groovy facial hair, I’m a fan of mutton chops, myself.

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