Understanding how dunes form under Pluto's conditions will help interpret similar features found elsewhere in the solar system.
NASA's New Horizons mission, which flew by the dwarf planet in July 2015, found that Pluto has towering mountains, but of water ice rather than rock; vast plains of frozen nitrogen and other exotic materials; and blue skies provided by a wispy atmosphere that contains no appreciable oxygen.
Comparing to Earth, Pluto has lower surface pressure up to 100k times and scientists consider it to be the main factor for the gathering of solid methane.More news: Many journalists fail to question new Cancer Society colorectal cancer screening guidelines
"We have been focusing on what's close to us, but there's a wealth of information in the distant reaches of the solar system too", said Dr. Jani Radebaugh, Associate Professor in the Department of Geological Sciences at Brigham Young University. The exciting part of the methane dunes existence is that they are formed instead of the presence of dwarf Pluto's fragile atmospheric layer. But in one area of the plain, the evidence kept piling up.
"We're sure", Telfer said. "The way that they're recognizing the dunes on the surface is the same technique we've used to identify dunes on Mars".
So what are the particular environmental parameters required to produce dunes? With temperatures of around -230° C (-382° F) and the surface primarily shrouded in frozen gases like nitrogen, carbon monoxide and methane, what could these fine, sand-sized particles be made of? The scientists calculated that the methane grains are probably a hundredth of an inch in diameter.
Researchers liken the dunes to those at White Sands, New Mexico, or California's Death Valley.
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. A model of Pluto's climate suggests that the wind can get as fast as about 20 miles per hour.More news: All about Google’s new community Q&A app for India : Neighbourly
Prof Hayes says we now know Pluto to be "a geologically diverse and dynamic world driven by internal heat, extreme seasons and sublimating ices". They performed modeling work that suggested Pluto's winds are strong enough to create the Sputnik Planitia dune system - as long as the grains being blown were already airborne. Something else has to give the dune grains that initial boost.
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The study authors suspect a process called sublimation did the trick. However despite being 30 times further away from the sun as the Earth, it turns out Pluto still has Earth-like characteristics.
Scientists have discovered dunes on Pluto's surface, which are likely to have been formed of methane ice grains released into its atmosphere.
McKinnon said the sublimation theory was "somewhat speculative". The newly identified features look a lot like wind-sculpted dunes, and that's exactly what they are, according to the study team.More news: Researchers Find Methane Ice Dunes on Pluto | Planetary Science
The crucial finding, in Radebaugh's view, is that the dunes exist.