Dunes that have never been seen before have popped up in New Horizon’s images as a new study finds that Plutos’ sand is made of solid methane ice.
New Horizons spacecraft’s July 2015 flyby of Pluto show 357 linear ridges, and planetary scientist Matt Telfer of the University of Plymouth in England believe that the dunes have been shaped by a novel process, according to their report in Science.
Despite Pluto’s thin atmosphere, computer simulations are suggesting that relatively strong winds, are strong enough to keep sand-sized methane ice particles moving once they become airborne.
However the winds are likely too weak to lift the grains off the ground by themselves.
The team suggests that little puffs of air coming from Sputnik Planitia’s nitrogen ice as the sun heats it could boost the methane ice particles skyward and into the wind, in a process called sublimation.
“That’s a novel, interesting idea,” says planetary scientist Alexander Hayes of Cornell University.
“When you look at dunes across the solar system, something that always strikes me is that they form the same patterns, regardless of the environment,” Hayes continued. Finding dunes on Pluto, too, suggests that the features may be ubiquitous. “If you have the material and a way to move it, you form dunes. That’s what this is telling us.”