Until now, scientists were confident that Pluto’s atmosphere was too thin to generate dunes of the kind that exist in our deserts. But a new study published in Science reveals evidence of frozen methane dunes that make it more dynamic than we previously thought.
The researchers used as a source of study the images sent by the New Horizons mission that approached Pluto in 2015. More precisely of what is known as Sputnik Planitia.
What did they discover?
The dunes are less than a kilometer away from each other and are composed of frozen methane with a shape similar to that of a grain of sand. This means that the atmosphere is not as fine as they thought. For the dunes to form, wind is first needed to transport the particles, but also a mechanism to lift them off the ground.
With the previous data, the logical thing was that Pluto could not have dunes due to its characteristics. However, the study showed that they are in the area with the most wind that reaches 10 meters per second, which is enough for them to be in motion.
The requirements are met
First of all, wind is generated when the air comes from the nearby mountains or the frozen materials are sublimated. On the other hand, the particles are formed by methane or also by nitrogen. The requirement to be able to get up off the ground is fulfilled, as the study explores, when it receives the heat from the Sun and the nitrogen reaches a temperature above the freezing point.
The study was conducted by geologist Matt Telfer of the University of Plymouth. According to him, the interesting thing is to see how Pluto is not only a still and frozen planet, but it is in constant dynamism and movement, even if it does not seem so. Its form is still changing.