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Old Gas, New Gas

Methane—made and taken apart by microbes, in the Earth, by people

Roald Hoffmann

Meanwhile, Back on Titan

In early 2005...Click to Enlarge Image

Just about a year ago, on January 14, 2005, the European Space Agency's Huygens probe completed a one-way, 4-billion-kilometer journey to Saturn's largest moon, Titan. The temperature there on the surface is around -179 degrees, cold enough that methane is a liquid. If  you look at some of the startling images sent back by Huygens you can see river-like channels that were probably carved by streams of the stuff. Why methane? After nitrogen, it's the most abundant component of Titan's atmosphere, and a heated sample of the Titan soil released a puff of it.

So where does Titan's methane come from? People think it's that serpentinization reaction mentioned earlier.

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