March 24, 2016
In a nod to extraterrestrial mountaineers of the future, scientists working on NASA’s Cassini mission have identified the highest point on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.
Titan’s tallest peak is 10,948 feet (3,337 meters) high and is found within a trio of mountainous ridges called the Mithrim Montes. The researchers found that all of Titan’s highest peaks are about 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) in elevation. The study used images and other data from Cassini’s radar instrument, which can peer through the obscuring smog of Titan’s atmosphere to reveal the surface in detail.
“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 Stephen Wall, deputy lead of the Cassini radar team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
The results, which use data collected by Cassini’s radar instrument, are being presented today at the 47th annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference at The Woodlands, Texas.
Most of Titan’s tallest mountains appear to be close to the equator. The researchers identified other peaks of similar height within the Mithrim Montes, as well as in the rugged region known as Xanadu, and in collections of more isolated peaks called “ridge belts” located near the landing site of ESA’s Huygens probe.
The investigation was originally motivated by a search for active zones within Titan’s crust — places where dynamic forces have shaped the landscape, perhaps in the relatively recent past.
“As explorers, we’re motivated to find the highest or deepest places, partly because it’s exciting. But Titan’s extremes also tell us important things about forces affecting its evolution,” said Jani Radebaugh, a Cassini radar team associate at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, who led the research.