Scientists find methane ice dunes on Pluto

Pluto has'Earth-like characteristics' study says

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They now plan to carry on investigating the dunes through computer simulations, which will in turn further enlighten them about how Pluto's winds shaped its geography.

The research was led by scientists from the University of Plymouth in the United Kingdom, the University of Cologne in Germany and Brigham YoungUniversity in the United States.

This observation has taken the researchers by surprise as they had never imagined that the planet, having an atmosphere, which is near about a hundred thousand times thinner as compared to the atmosphere of the Earth could be robust enough for giving rise to dunes formation. They reported that a nitrogen ice sheet over the top of Sputnik Planitia was converted into gas, elevating the methane particles into the atmosphere. This requires the grains to be entrained in the wind - if grains are compressed and consolidated, as would be the case in a deeply frozen or solid rocky surface, then they can not readily be transported.

WHEN Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto in 1930, he could not have known that he was opening a whole field of science that is only now coming into its own: the study of planetary landscapes, or comparative planetary morphology.

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Mild winds blow across the Pluto's surface at a speed of about nineteen to twenty-five miles which corresponds to approximately thirty to forty kilometers per hour.

Methane, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and nitrogen, all gaseous on Earth, are rendered solid with Pluto's temperatures near absolute zero. Furthermore, spectral and numerical models showed that Pluto's dunes may form from a thin layer of methane that gets released into the air due to nitrogen ice below it sublimating - or turning directly from a solid to a gas.

Matt Telfer explained that the dunes on Pluto are like the ones at White Sands, New Mexico or the sands in California's Death Valley. "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". This showed researchers that the dunes were most likely the result of tiny grains of methane, as Phys.org reports.

These dunes are largely undisturbed on Pluto's icy crust, which suggests that they were formed within the past 500,000 years - or even more recently. He was not involved in the study.

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Personally, I find it remarkable every time we get to see familiar Earthly features on alien worlds, be them tall mountains, vast deserts, or undulating canals.

Nonetheless, he described the Telfer team's argument for uplifted methane granules as convincing.

"Together, we have found that these combined processes can form dunes under normal, everyday wind conditions on Pluto", Parteli said. The spacecraft is now headed toward an even more distant world in our solar system's so-called Kuiper Belt, or Twilight Zone.

New Horizons is now approaching another object in the Kuiper Belt, known as 2014 MU69.

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Flight controllers at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, will rouse New Horizons from a five-month electronic hibernation next week.

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