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Space & Astronomy

Dunes of frozen methane discovered on Pluto

By T.K. Randall
June 1, 2018 · Comment icon 7 comments

Pluto is home to some unexpected features. Image Credit: NASA
The enigmatic dwarf planet is home to a 'riot of processes' that continue to surprise researchers.
Pluto surprised everyone when New Horizons beamed back the first close-up photographs in 2015, revealing this distant, icy world to be covered in a wide array of unique and notable surface features.

The most recent of these to be identified from images and data returned by the probe is a field of dunes comprised of, not sand, but tiny grains of frozen methane.

This remarkable terrain is situated between Sputnik Planitia - a heart-shaped nitrogen glacier around the size of France - and Al Idrisi Montes - a mountain range comprised of frozen water.
"Pluto, even though it's so far away from Earth and so very cold, has a riot of processes we never expected to see," said planetary scientist Jani Radebaugh. "It is far more interesting than any of us dreamed, and tells us that these very distant bodies are well worth visiting."

In terms of texture, the dunes quite closely resemble those found in California's Death Valley.

"It's a little bit lower density than sand we're used to holding on the Earth," said Radebaugh. "So it would feel lighter in your hand, but it would still be granular and would kind of flow off of your hand, and your feet would kind of crunch them as you're walking along."

"It would just kind of feel a lot like you're on another sand dune on the Earth."

Source: The Guardian | Comments (7)

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by Merc14 6 years ago
What would drive this wind on distant Pluto?
Comment icon #2 Posted by paperdyer 6 years ago
Good question Merc.  Perhaps the unique orbit has something to do with it, or dare I say it, Planet X?
Comment icon #3 Posted by DingoLingo 6 years ago
at a guess I would say solar winds
Comment icon #4 Posted by qxcontinuum 6 years ago
Yes. The only logic explanation for many other intricacies in our solar system. 
Comment icon #5 Posted by Astra. 6 years ago
Your question got me to think about this. Anyway's I found this article from NASA that explains about the solar winds.  
Comment icon #6 Posted by Astra. 6 years ago
Ooops, you beat me to it. Seems your guess might be right.
Comment icon #7 Posted by bison 6 years ago
The solar wind interacts with Pluto's very thin atmosphere, but I have a hard time imagining that it is able to move about particles of methane ice on the surface, the size of sand grains. That's what these dunes are supposed to be made of.  Pluto's atmosphere is currently about 1/100,000 the density of Earth's, but when nearest the Sun, it calculated that volatile surface ices may be vaporized to form an atmosphere  3 percent to 25 percent as dense as Earth's. That should certainly be enough to move sand-sized particle about. The dunes may be blown about only during the Plutonian Summer,... [More]

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