The mountains of Pluto are snowcapped, but not for the same reasons as on Earth
by Staff Writers
Paris, France (SPX) Oct 14, 2020
In 2015, the New Horizons space probe discovered spectacular snowcapped mountains on Pluto, which are strikingly similar to mountains on Earth. Such a landscape had never before been observed elsewhere in the Solar System.
However, as atmospheric temperatures on our planet decrease at altitude, on Pluto they heat up at altitude as a result of solar radiation. So where does this ice come from? An international team led by CNRS scientists* conducted this exploration.
They first determined that the "snow" on Pluto's mountains actually consists of frozen methane, with traces of this gas being present in Pluto's atmosphere, just like water vapour on Earth.
Then, to understand how the same landscape could be produced in such different conditions, they used a climate model for the dwarf planet, which revealed that due to its particular dynamics, Pluto's atmosphere is rich in gaseous methane at altitudes.
As a result, it is only at the peaks of mountains high enough to reach this enriched zone that the air contains enough methane for it to condense. At lower altitudes the air is too low in methane for ice to form.
This research, published in Nature Communications, could also explain why the thick glaciers consisting of methane observed elsewhere on Pluto bristle with spectacular craggy ridges, unlike Earth's flat glaciers, which consist of water.
Arrokoth: Flattening of a snowman
Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany (SPX) Oct 07, 2020
The many millions of bodies populating the Kuiper Belt beyond Neptune's orbit are yet to reveal many of their secrets. In the 1980s, the space probes Pioneer 1 and 2 as well as Voyager 1 and 2 crossed this region - but without cameras on board. NASA's spacecraft New Horizons sent the first images from the outermost edge of the solar system to Earth: in the summer of 2015 of dwarf planet Pluto and three and a half years later of the trans-Neptunian object Arrokoth, about 30 kilometers in size. Not ... read more
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