Scientists discover secrets behind Pluto's dunes
A team of scientists has discovered the causes of Pluto's unique icy dunes.

Tyler MacDonald | 4 hours ago

Scientists believe that Pluto's dunes were likely formed by methane ice grains that were released into the planet's rarified atmosphere.

After spatial analysis of the dunes and nearby wind streaks on Pluto's surfacein addition to numerical and spectral monitoringscientists believe that the sand-sized grains are the result of sublimation, which converts solid nitrogen directly into a gas.

Following this process, these grains are transported by Pluto's moderate winds into the border of the ice plain and mountain range. The results suggests that these dunes likely formed within the last 500,000 yearsmaybe even earlier.

"We knew that every solar system body with an atmosphere and a solid rocky surface has dunes on it, but we didn't know what we'd find on Pluto," said Matt Telfer, lead author of the study. "It turns out that even though there is so little atmosphere, and the surface temperature is around -230?C, we still get dunes forming."

"The New Horizons data has given us a new level of detail, but we had to work hard to explain how it was possible to get the supply of sediment, a non-cohesive surface and wind you need for dunes," he continued. "It is another piece of the jigsaw in making sense of this diverse and remote body, and gives us a more fundamental understanding of the geological processes which are influencing it."

The findings were published in Science.

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