China and Europe are launching crude oil into space Wednesday in an experiment to help geologists find more oil on Earth.
The experiment will measure how oil molecules move under intense pressures and uneven temperatures, and could only be performed in a weightless environment. The spacecraft carrying the experiment will spend 12 days in orbit around Earth before returning to land in the Chinese province of Gansu.
“Deep underground, crushing pressure and rising temperature as one goes down is thought to lead to a diffusion effect – petroleum compounds moving due to temperature, basically defying gravity. Over geological timescales, heavier deposits end up rising, while lighter ones sink,” Olivier Minster, a scientist with the European Space Agency (ESA), said in a press statement. “The aim is to quantify this effect in weightlessness, to make it easier to create computer models of oil reservoirs that will help guide future decisions on their exploitation.”
The same spacecraft is carrying several other experiments, including two combustion experiments to test how materials used in spacecraft burn in space, an experiment that studies crystal growth in semiconductor materials in orbit, and three experiments that will investigate how radiation affects genetics.
The oil experiment is a partnership between ESA, China’s National Space Science Centre, as well as French and Chinese oil companies. “We have been sharing scientific data and sharing results with China,” Antonio Verga, an ESA microgravity researcher in Netherlands, told Science Magazine.
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