After Earth And Mars, Pluto Shows The Presence Of Dune Formation

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Alexander Hayes from the Cornell University, who wasn't associated with the research, wrote in commentary of published observations, "Before NASA's New Horizons mission, the surface of Pluto was shrouded in mystery".

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. In the neighborhood there stretched a chain of icy mountains with a height of about 5 km. the Researchers came to the conclusion that the dunes are from each other at a distance of 400-1000 m and are composed of frozen methane ice, the size of which the diameter is about 200-300 micrometers. Within these highly detailed images, researchers noticed what looked to be an extensive system of unusual dunes stretching 75 miles along the boundary of Pluto's massive Al-Idrisi Montes mountain range and Sputnik Planitia - a nitrogen-ice plain that forms the left lobe of the planet's famous "heart".

These plains in the left lobe of Pluto's "heart" are known as Sputnik Planitia. Sastrugi - parallel wave-like ridges caused by winds on a hard snow surface; barchan - crescent mounds that tend to be wider than they are long; and seif - linear dunes with two slip faces, are just three of the very different types of dune that are found on Earth.

"It turns out that even though there is so little atmosphere, and the surface temperature is around minus 382 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 230 degrees Celsius), we still get dunes forming". The dwarf planet hangs out at the far reaches of the Solar System and it's an incredibly chilly place to be.

For some time, scientists have been intrigued by unusual, regularly spaced ridges, that stuck out of Pluto's cold, dark plains like thumbprints pressed into ice. This refuted the earlier hypothesis of the experts that the winds on the dwarf planet is too weak for the manipulation of particles of frozen nitrogen or hydrocarbons.

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Within our solar system, dunes are more rare than you might think. The discovery suggests that the planet's surface is more geologically diverse and dynamic than scientists previously expected.

Modeling by the team shows that Pluto's moderate winds (which can reach between 19 and 25 miles per hour, or 30-40 kmh) can create these dunes once the grains are airborne. Scientists also believe the dunes, which seem undisturbed, likely formed within the last 500,000 years, possibly much more recently.

Pluto, smaller than Earth's moon with a diameter of about 1,400 miles (2,380 km), orbits roughly 3.6 billion miles (5.8 billion km) away from the sun, nearly 40 times farther than Earth's orbit, with a surface marked by plains, mountains, craters and valleys.

"On Earth, you need a certain strength of wind to maintain transport", said co-author Eric Parteli. Clearly, they are not of sand, as are the dunes of the Sahara, or even of water ice, as they are in Antarctica.

Scientists were impressed to find dunes on Pluto because it has a thin atmosphere. An astronomer unrelated to the study told Gizmodo that there needs to be higher-resolution images of the structures to determine whether or not they may be dunes.