One of the biggest scientific events of 2015 was the expedition to Pluto and the great observations made by the New Horizons spacecraft. The mission brought the first detailed photographs of the planet’s surface, so researchers discovered many formations they didn’t know were present there. At the bottom of a major mountain, they observed some interesting dunes that turned out to be made of methane.
Pluto sports some interesting methane dunes
The images of the surface of Pluto illustrated a lot of interesting formations. Among the most captivating finds, there was Sputnik Panitia, a plain covered entirely in ice. At the edge of this plain, there were some interesting formations that look like dunes and spread near the edge of the icy mountains.
Given the shape and location of these dunes, researchers ran some simulations and discovered their composition. The wind on Pluto also played an important role, as it might have triggered a process called sublimation. Through this process, solid nitrogen particles turned into gas while methane got released in the atmosphere.
Pluto has some striking Earth-like characteristics
Afterwards, this wind transported the methane particles across this ice plain. When it faced the mountains, it couldn’t go on, so they turned into these methane dunes. Given their good shape, researchers assumed the formations must be relatively new. More precisely, they must have formed about 500,000 years ago.
Such formations aren’t uncommon for planets with rocks and atmosphere. However, Pluto sports a ground temperature of -230 degrees Celsius with a really thin atmosphere. Despite all these factors, the methane dunes could still form on its surface. This phenomenon is extremely interesting, as it shows how mysterious Pluto is and how complex its geological processes are. In fact, these methane dunes are quite Earth-like.
The study on the strange formations on Pluto’s surface was published in the journal Science.
Image source: Wikipedia