There's Tar In Them Thar Hills

Is the 21st century's equivalent of the '49s Gold Rush in our future, say in 2049? Think Tom Corbet and Gabby Hays, tanker rockets and space-suited roughnecks.

The Cassini spacecraft and scientists from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md., reported in the Jan. 29 issue of the Geophysical Research Letters that Saturn's orange moon Titan has hundreds of times more liquid hydrocarbons than all the known oil and natural gas reserves on Earth. The hydrocarbons rain from the sky, collecting in vast deposits that form lakes and dunes.

At a not so balmy minus 179 degrees Celsius (minus 290 degrees Fahrenheit), Titan is a far cry from Earth. Instead of water, liquid hydrocarbons in the form of methane and ethane fill lakes and seas on Saturn's moon.

Several hundred bodies of water methane have been observed, and dark dunes that run along the equator contain a volume of organics several hundred times greater than Earth's coal reserves.

And don't forget we're a carbon-based life form, so it's not out of the question to think that a life form based on liquid methane instead of liquid water might have evolved.

Could make a great space opera, daring astronauts fighting vicious methane-monsters to bring back life-giving hydrocarbons. Assuming we can figure out how to prevent their by-products from making global warming worse, of course.

Blah, blah, blah . . . WACKO!

So you start reading what looks like a typical scientific journal article—lotsa names, unusual terms, not very clear what it's all about and then BAM, right between the eyes. Try it.

Evolution of Mid–IR Excess Around Sun–like Stars:
Constraints on Models of Terrestrial Planet Formation
M.R. Meyer, J.M. Carpenter, E.E. Mamajek, L.A. Hillenbrand, D. Hollenbach, A.
Moro–Martin, J.S. Kim, M.D. Silverstone, J. Najita, D.C. Hines, I. Pascucci, J.R.
Stauffer, J. Bouwman, & D.E. Backman
We report observations from the Spitzer Space Telescope (SST) regarding the frequency of 24 μm excess emission toward sun-like stars. Our unbiased sample is comprised of 309 stars with masses 0.7-2.2 M⊙ and ages from <3>3 Gyr that lack excess emission at wavelengths 8 μm. We identify 30 stars that exhibit clear evidence of excess emission from the observed 24/8μm flux ratio. The implied 24 μm excesses of these candidate debris disk systems range from 13 % (the minimum detectable) to more than 100% compared to the expected photospheric emission. The frequency of systems with evidence for dust debris emitting at 24 μm ranges from 8.5–19 % at ages greater than 300 Myr to greater than 4 % for older stars. The results suggest that many, perhaps most, sun-like stars might form terrestrial planets.

The researchers looked at 309 sun-like stars, grouped them by age, and then used the Spitzer infrared space telescope to look for dust around them. The dust glows in the infrared spectrum from the heat of the local star, and the temperature of the glow is proportional to the distance from the star.

About 10% of the stars in the Milky Way are like our Sun. If just 10% of them have rocky planets, as this study indicates, there may be a billion planets like Earth orbiting stars in our galaxy alone! Lower mass stars can form planetary systems too, of course, and there are a whole lot more of them then stars like ours. So there may be several billion terrestrial planets in the galaxy and there are hundreds of billions of galaxies in the Universe.

Read the rest of the paper at