Pluto has 'characteristics similar to the Earth', according to a study

    Abdulaziz Sobh

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    Almost three years after NASA's New Horizons spacecraft flew past Pluto, we are still learning about the dwarf planet.
    A study published Thursday in the journal Science reveals that the dwarf planet has dunes. But these are not like the sand dunes on Earth; The dunes of Pluto are made of solid grains of methane.
    Within our solar system, the dunes are rarer than you might think. They exist on Earth, Mars, Venus, Saturn's moon Titan and Comet 67P.
    "When we first saw the New Horizons images, we immediately thought that it was dunes, but it was really amazing because we know there is not much atmosphere," Jani Radebaugh, co-author of the study and associate professor of geological sciences at Brigham Young University He said in a statement. "However, despite being 30 times farther from the Sun than the Earth, it turns out that Pluto still has Earth-like characteristics, we have focused on what is close to us, but there is a lot of information in the far scopes of the solar system too. "
    An international team of planetary scientists, physicists and geographers observed detailed photos of Pluto's surface, captured by New Horizons, which offered a bird's eye view of the active surface of the dwarf planet. It is composed of nitrogen, carbon dioxide, water, and methane, and is diverse in geographic features, including plains, ditches, and ridges.
    They saw 357 regularly spaced pale crests and six darker wind streaks along 46 miles of the Sputnik Planitia, a vast ice plain that makes up one of Pluto's largest surface features. The scientists noticed that the ridges ran parallel to the main mountain range, which seemed to move and spread. They also change locally and consistently. This indicated that the wind was creating the ridges.
    But with the surface frozen, the researchers wondered what could be done. Combining an analysis of the wind gust and dune-like features with spectral and numerical modeling, the scientists determined what the underlying architect of the dunes on Pluto might be.
    The wind could create the dunes from fine particles once they are in the air. And since the surface pressure of Pluto is 100,000 times smaller than that of Earth, those grains do not need as much elevation.
    They discovered that it was possible if there was sublimation on the surface when a solid turned directly into a gas. In the case of Pluto, the sun heats the icy surface enough so that the gas can be released into the atmosphere. This also lifts the methane particles, which most likely come from the nearby mountains. But researchers have not ruled out that these can be made of nitrogen ice.
    The Pluto winds can reach 18 to 24 miles per hour, creating and sculpting dunes.
    "On Earth, it takes a certain force of wind to release sand particles in the air, but winds that are 20% weaker are enough to maintain transport," Eric Parteli, co-author of the study and professor of computational geosciences at the University of Cologne, he said in a statement.
    "The considerably lower gravity of Plut and the extremely low atmospheric pressure means that the winds needed to maintain sediment transport can be a hundred times lower. The temperature gradients in the granular ice layer, caused by solar radiation They also play an important role at the beginning of the process of salvation [movement of particles on an irregular surface.] Together, we have discovered that these combined processes can form dunes in normal and daily wind conditions on Pluto. "These dunes are not altered in the frozen crust of Pluto, suggesting that they formed in the last 500,000 years, or even more recently. Pluto presents a kind of age enigma in this way.
    Instead of craters, the dwarf planet has polygonal shapes and characteristics that indicate that the surface is geologically active and young. The surface itself is only about 500,000 years old, although the dwarf planet itself is about 4.5 billion years old. This activity is most likely caused by a thermal convective tipping of the ice. This helps the date when the dunes were formed, too.
    "We knew that everybody of the solar system with an atmosphere and a rocky solid surface has dunes, but we did not know what we would find on Pluto," Matt Telfer, the study's lead author and professor of physical geography at Plymouth University, said in an interview. release. "It turns out that although there is the very little atmosphere, and the surface temperature is around -230 degrees Celsius, dunes are still forming." New Horizons data has given us a new level of detail, but we had to work hard to explain how it was possible to obtain the sediment supply, a non-cohesive surface and the wind you need for the dunes.
    "It's another piece of the puzzle to make sense of this diverse and remote body, and it gives us a more fundamental understanding of the geological processes that are influencing it."