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[Energy] [Column] All About Petroleum - (10) Would There be Petroleum on Other Planets?

by Eco Generation | 20-08-2019 11:47 Comments 2 Comments recommendations 0 recommendations



Would There be Petroleum on Other Planets?

 

 

By Science Columnist Ho-Gwan Ko

 


Human beings are dreaming of leaving Earth someday. Since the successful Apollo program of the Moon landing, human beings have been staying near Earth for decades, but we have again started talking about exploring other worlds, including the Moon and Mars. The United States is also implementing a plan to send people back to the Moon, and Elon Musk, the CEO of the private space company SpaceX, has announced plans to move to Mars.


Of course, it is very difficult for humans to build a city on a world other than Earth. Technology also needs to be further developed, and that requires a lot of money and time. It takes more than six months to make a one-way trip to Mars. To build a city equipped with living facilities enough for many people to live in requires a great deal of resources.


It is difficult to get all the resources needed to build a new civilization from scratch from Earth. Most of all, it is very expensive to send things up to space. Since weight means cost, engineers try to reduce the weight of machine as much as possible. If it is possible to procure resources locally, that is much more efficient.


The same applies to petroleum chemicals, which are essential for maintaining modern civilization. Would it not be very expensive to import all fuels, plastics, and medicines from Earth? It would be great if there were petroleum on the new planet that humans have exploited.


Would there be petroleum on planets outside Earth? Considering that petroleum is the remains of dead animals (organic matter) that once lived in the past, petroleum may not have been generated on extraterrestrial planets where living things have not existed. If that is the case, it might be better not to make vain attempt to find petroleum on planets when we already have so many things to develop.


But the main component of petroleum is hydrocarbons. That is, it is composed of carbon and hydrogen. Carbon and hydrogen are common materials in space. Even if there are no organisms, if carbon and hydrogen are in a proper environment, petroleum-like substances may be produced. As there are numerous stars and planets in the universe, you do not have to give up before you even start exploration.


You can find a similar case in the solar system. It is Titan, the largest satellite of Saturn. Titan is the second largest satellite in the solar system, after Ganymede. It is bigger even than the planet Mercury. Unusually, Titan has a thick atmosphere. Most satellites are so small that they do not have an atmosphere. There is no atmosphere on the Moon as well.


There is a lake of liquid methane on the surface of Titan. Methane consists of 1 carbon atom and 1 hydrogen atom and is the main component of natural gas. On Earth, it is a gas, but it remains liquid on Titan where the surface temperature is 180℃ below zero. Scientists assume that Titan has hundreds of times more hydrocarbons than Earth. If you ever live on Titan, you do not have to worry about fuel.


The atmosphere of Titan contains various compounds consisting of carbon and hydrogen. Scientists also discovered propylene after analyzing the atmosphere. It is a raw material for making polypropylene that is used variously in daily life. There is no need to import plastics from Earth.


Here is even more amazing news: A study revealed that there might be petroleum outside of the solar system in the Horsehead Nebula, 1,300 light years away from Earth. It is known that the amount of hydrocarbons found in the nebula is 200 times the sum of all the water on Earth. How does the Horsehead Nebula have hydrocarbons? Scientists speculate that large carbon compound molecules would have absorbed ultraviolet light and decomposed into small hydrocarbon molecules.


As such, if the universe has abundant petroleum, by the time we travel through space, we would not need to worry about petroleum being depleted. However, would we still be using petroleum by the time the technology has so developed that we can finally travel through space? Or would there be unimaginable new energy? The answer will remain unknown until the time actually comes.

 

 

Titan's Liquid Methane: Copyright NASA

 Titan's Liquid Methane: Copyright NASA

 

 

 

Horsehead Nebula:  Copyright Ken Crawford

Horsehead Nebula:  Copyright Ken Crawford

2 Comments

ALOK DHAKAL

  • ALOK DHAKAL says :
    Thank you for wonderful piece of writing.
    Posted 18-09-2019 00:14

Meena Pandey

  • Meena Pandey says :
    Thank you for such a wonderful piece of writing.
    Posted 03-09-2019 13:01

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