Friday, October 28, 2011

An Infinite Supply of Hydrocarbons: Coal and Kerogen Beyond the Stars

Relatively complex, carbon-containing molecules are found in comets and on nearby planets, thought to have been made elsewhere in our Solar System.

But a report in Nature suggests even larger molecules may be forged near young stars and flung outwards. _BBC
Researchers at the University of Hong Kong observed stars at different evolutionary phases and found that they are able to produce complex organic compounds and eject them into space, filling the regions between stars. The compounds are so complex that their chemical structures resemble the makeup of coal and petroleum, the study's lead author Sun Kwok, of the University of Hong Kong, said.

..."Coal and kerogen are products of life and it took a long time for them to form," Kwok said. "How do stars make such complicated organics under seemingly unfavorable conditions and [do] it so rapidly?" _CBS
If scientists can detect the signatures of complex hydrocarbons within the clouds of interstellar dust, then it is clear that the quantities of such materials in the universe must be truly immense.

There is reason to believe that a significant amount of hydrocarbon was incorporated into the deep planetary structures of the Earth in the earliest stages of planetary formation. Theorists such as Thomas Gold, and Sergey and Alexey Marakushev have maintained that much of the oil & gas that is produced commercially, came from this pre-biotic hydrocarbon.

Other bodies in our solar system, such as Titan, possess oceans of hydrocarbon -- clearly not of biological origin. In fact, as we are discovering, complex hydrocarbons appear to be ubiquitous wherever one looks in the universe.

The Deep Carbon Observatory of the Carnegie Institution for Science is engaged in the study of the deep Earth carbon cycle, and hopes to learn more about the different forms of carbon which cycle through the deep planet and up into the crust.
The true story of the origin and extent of our world's hydrocarbons has not yet been written -- much less understood. It is far too early for humans to claim to know the limits of their planet's resources.

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