Mile-high mountains on Titan

A range of mountains a mile high has been discovered on the surface of Saturn’s largest moon Titan. The 93-mile long range (150km) is the tallest seen on the moon, which scientists are comparing to a young Earth.

Mountains on TitanIt is blanketed with clouds and coated with a strange “snow” – methane or other organic material possibly like that from which life formed on Earth.

The discovery was made by Nasa’s Cassini probe, in orbit around ringed planet Saturn, as it flew close to Titan on October 25. It used an infrared camera to peer through the orange haze surrounding Titan which is the only other world in the solar system to have a thick nitrogen-dominated atmosphere like our own.

Latest results from the mission were announced at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. The images also revealed dunes and a fan-shaped deposit of material resembling a volcano’s lava flow.

Scientists believe the mountains formed because of the movement of tectonic plates just as continental drift produces ocean ridges on Earth.

Professor John Zarnecki, of the Open University, who led the team that landed the Huygens probe on Titan in January last year, said: “Titan continues to amaze us. We are really beginning to build up a detailed picture of the make-up of this intriguing moon.”

Cassini scientist Dr Larry Soderblom, of the U.S. Geological Survey, Flagstaff, Arizona, said: “These mountains are probably as hard as rock, made of icy materials, and are coated with different layers of organics.

He added: “Some of this organic gunk falls out of the atmosphere as rain, dust, or smog onto the valley floors and mountain tops, which are coated with dark spots that appear to be brushed, washed, scoured and moved around the surface.”

The mountain range can be seen running diagonally across the accompanying Nasa image.

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Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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