If humanity establishes its presence throughout the solar system, then future climbers and mountaineers would most likely want to put Titan on their list of exploration routes. Scientists used Cassini's accurate observations to measure the heights of the great mountains of the foggy moon — and they are surprisingly high.
Using NASA's spacecraft radar, planetary scientists were able to break through the opaque atmosphere, revealing the rich bounty of geological features, including the satellite’s highest peak.
“This is not only the highest point we have found on Titan today. We think this is the highest point we can find, ”said Stephen Wall, deputy lead Cassini radar team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., At the 47th annual Lunar and Planetary Scientific Conference in Woodland, Texas, on Wednesday.
The highest peak reaches 3, 337 meters (or 10, 948 feet) and was found located in 3 mountain ranges, known as the Mitrim Mountains. All the highest peaks of Titan reach about 3,000 meters (10,000 feet) in height and are clustered around the lunar equator.
For comparison, the highest peak on Earth is Everest with a height of 8848 meters (29, 029 feet), so Titan Mons, of course, does not hunt for the status of the largest mountain in the Solar System. But, considering that Titan is two and a half times smaller than Earth, the fact that it has a mountain two and a half times smaller than the highest mountain on Earth still seems impressive. (Of course, even the Earth does not own the highest mountain in the Solar System. The record is given to an extinct volcano Mount Olympus located on Mars 22000 meters high. It is even eclipsed by a couple of peaks on Venus.)
The study of the radar was designed to search for tectonically active areas in the crust of Titan. On Earth, mountains are formed during tectonic movements (for example, in regions located along subduction zones) and as a result of volcanic activity. And both are signs of active geology. Over time, erosion processes wear mountains and rocks, providing clues to their age.
“As researchers, we are motivated to search for the highest or deepest places, in part because it is interesting. But the extremes of Titan also tell us important information about the forces affecting its development, ”said Yani Radebaug, commander of the Cassini radar, a staff member at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, and the head of the study.
Exploring the mountains of Titan also provides exciting clues as to what is hidden under it. Titan, like many small bodies throughout the solar system, seems to have a subsurface ocean of liquid water, which acts like a molten mantle, on which the earth's crust floats. However, the bedrock on Titan is probably much softer than the rock on Earth. This factor will limit the height of the mountain ranges of the moon.
“There are many quantities in studying the topography of Titan in a broad, global sense, telling us about the force that acts on and under the surface,” said Radenbaug.
Now researchers hope that further study of these mysterious mountain ranges will help to find out how they were formed. Are there powerful tides from Saturn, which squeeze the bowels of the moon and lead to protrusion with the formation of mountains? Or is there some other process? Titan is often referred to as the “young analog of the Earth.” In other words, planetary scientists study the moon, in part, to understand what our planet looked like before life sparkled on its surface. Although Titan is located much further from the Sun, it has many atmospheric processes that are repeated on Earth. Including methane cycle, which produces precipitation (rain), and creates river channels, combining them into huge methane / ethane lakes and “seas”. Other weather processes were also detected, including surface winds and fogs.
Add to this amazing cocktail of atmospheric processes the fact that the surface of Titan is rich in prebiotic chemicals (the building blocks of life, as we call them), and you get something that could be considered as a miniature, albeit much colder, Earth with potential for life.
Although a trip to the mountains of Titan is likely to be a real feat (14 percent of Earth's gravitational force will help you to rise, but the cold, toxic atmosphere will take you inside the spacesuit), understanding their formation and evolution will add another chapter to “The similarity of Titan with the early Earth.” This will help not only to reveal the secrets that lie under the bark, but also the processes that can optimize the moon for life.