August 1, 2008

Science reporting is often bad

But it can also obtain hilarious results.

NASA confirmed this week that one of the moons of Saturn, Titan, features at least one lake containing liquid ethane.

Ethane is a simple molecule comprised of carbon and hydrogen and on Earth, it's a gas. But on Titan, it's a liquid, because the temperature there is -200ยบ Celsius, which is just below ethane's boiling point.

It hasn't been that cold here lately, not even in Winnipeg.

Another naturally occurring compound, methane, is present in Titan's atmosphere and the methane reacts with the energy from the Sun to produce a system of evaporation similar to what occurs on Earth, except with different chemicals, in Titan's case.

That's where the liquid ethane on Titan's surface comes from.

Nevertheless, the Associated Press, among others, advises that
Liquid ethane is a component of crude oil.
Well no, it isn't, and poor reporting like this seems to have caused some minor havoc on the internets.

Mike Mathias noticed, and directs our attention to the absurdist ramblings of local blogger and radio personality James T. "Hip Musings" Harris, who claims oil was discovered on Titan.

And, he declares therefore, "OIL IS NOT A FOSSEL [sic] FUEL!" because he isn't aware of any dinosaurs on Titan. Seriously.

Methane is also a byproduct of utter bullshit.


Tom said...

Ethane is a component of natural gas (NG). Next to methane, ethane is the second most common component found in NG, and it's content varies from region to region. It is also a byproduct of petroleum refining, and has several useful purposes.

illusory tenant said...

Correct as usual.

And now that you mention it, the confusion between natural gas and petroleum has lately been a hallmark of much reporting and especially the statements of various Congresspersons dealing with fuel exploration.

But I think -- and you probably agree -- that the significance of this discovery has more to do with the prebiotic conditions on various planets that may provide the necessary environmental circumstances to sustain life in some form.

Anonymous said...

Holy jumpin.

The freakiest thing about that Harris blog entry is that he actually links people to an earlier entry, as if he wanted people to read it.

But it's even more batshit-crazy than the current entry, by about 50 billion barrels of Martian oil.

In an entirely apposite nutshell: America needs to follow the scientific example of Russia and Saudi Arabia, because these countries are pumping oil as if it were a renewable resource. Therefore, it is.

Hip! Musing! Also, stupid! Crazy!

illusory tenant said...

"There is no such thing as a climate scientist. Putting climate in front of science means you get to guess and still be taken seriously."

He's one to talk about being taken seriously.

Tom said...

... the significance of this discovery has more to do with the prebiotic conditions ...

Indeed. Rualin, in both the Science article, and another article he wrote in Space Science Reviews refers to Titan as: ... a natural laboratory for prebiotic-like chemistry.

AutismNewsBeat said...

How can Titan have ethane when Titanians don't even drive SUVs?

Anonymous said...

Though there is a growing body of evidence that oil is not a "fossil fuel" as was long thought to be. Many of the oil reserves that are being tapped actually sit below the layers of earth where fossils from common periods were. Also, strangely, many reserves that were thought to be tapped are replenishing. This is not simply due to better techniques that can get previously unavailable oil, but actually from using the same old techniques.

One new theory posits that oil is actually generated deep in the earth's mantle, and that week spots in the crust allow oil to collect in certain areas. Because the mantle is constantly churning, and moving around, this allows for replenishment.

Finding hydrocarbon deposits on other planets, and moons would certainly be an interesting find, and would help to determine the actual causes for oil formations.

illusory tenant said...

Hi Nick. Are you referring to Thomas Gold and that crowd?

The Siljan Ring crater.