NASA Spacecraft Finds Ice Dunes of Methane in Pluto

 

The scientists from NASA are excited to reveal that they have found methane ice dunes in Pluto. This recent discovery leads to the fact that Pluto might be much more dynamic than what was previously thought about it. The images made it clear which was sent by the New Horizons Mission by NASA. It was close to the Pluto in July 2015.  The new horizons spent nearly a decade in the solar system before progressing to Pluto.

This discovery came as a startling one as earlier scientists thought that the atmosphere of Pluto was too thin. A plain area on the surface called sputnik planitia was studied by the scientists because they found it partially covered with dune-like structures. The dunes are basically found in the bottom part of the plains. Also, the plains are in the vicinity of a range of mountains. The mountains are composed of water ice and are about 5 feet in height. The scientists came to the conclusion that the dunes are made of methane ice and the particles are about the size of sand grains.

The lead author of this paper said that it is not possible to see the individual grain particles but they can be easily characterised. In fact, their basic physical characteristics can also be identified. Apart from that, it is also possible to identify how far apart the dunes are and also how they are formed. All these data can be fed to form a physical model and from that, the size of the particles can be deduced.

The startling fact is that the dune formation needs a dense atmosphere, dry particles and also a mechanism which drives the particles. Earlier, none of these characteristics was thought to be present in Pluto. Scientists concluded that the dunes must be present in that area of the Pluto where wind speed is highest at an estimate of 10m per second. They think that the dunes must be created when the air flows down from the neighbouring mountains. 

This new discovery has shocked the scientific world in many ways especially for those who thought Pluto as a cold and silent body. Now, it seems that Pluto has many fascinating features which expand further chances of exploration. With this, Pluto joins several other planets and moons in the solar system which has dunes. It also raises questions about the other worlds and whether they have similar features too.