Probe Finds Massive Icy Mountain On Saturn's Moon Titan

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Mithrim Montes

Mithrim Montes

A string of mountain ranges on Titan that contains the moon's tallest peaks.NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI

Researchers have now identified the tallest peak on Saturn's moon Titan, a mountain that stands 10,948 feet tall. For comparison, Mount Everest stands over 29,000 feet above sea level.

The peaks were measured by radar instruments on the Cassini spacecraft, which has been sending back data about the Saturn system since 2004.

"It's not only the highest point we've found so far on Titan, but we think it's the highest point we're likely to find," said NASA researcher Stephen Wall, deputy lead of the Cassini radar team.

Mountains usually form when pressures on a tectonically active planet push parts of the brittle crust upwards. Both Titan and the Earth have the same very basic structure, a hard crust 'floating' over a more fluid mantle. The difference is that on Earth, the crust is hard rock floating on a mantle of easily deformed, almost molten rock, and on Titan, the crust is believed to be made of ice overlying a saltwater ocean.

Though mountains on Earth and Titan probably formed via the same kinds of tectonic forces, basic physics prevents mountains on Titan from reaching the same heights as mountains on Earth. Because ice is much less dense than rock (even melted rock), mountains on Titan wouldn't be able to grow as tall as our own mountains.

Researchers plan to use the data from Cassini to get more information about how Titan formed, and the current atmosphere. Cassini's next flyby of Titan will be on April 4, when researchers will take a closer look at Titan's atmosphere.