NASA’s New Horizons scientists discovered dunes on Pluto which give them to know the dwarf planet’s geology.
New Horizons is an interplanetary space probe that was launched as a part of NASA’s New Frontiers program. Engineered by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) and the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) the spacecraft was launched in 2006 with the primary mission to perform a flyby study of the Pluto system in 2015.
The unexpected fact is that the atmosphere is far more dynamic, with the winds of its thin and multi-layer atmosphere helping shape the landscape. Researchers found these equitably separated edges on Pluto’s surface utilizing imagery from the 2015 flyby.
According to NASA “The ridges appear to have formed out of particles of methane ice as small as grains of sand, arranged into dunes by wind from the nearby mountains”.
“The interesting, repeating patterns we see covering this part of Sputnik Planitia certainly resemble dunes,” said Jeffery Moore, a research scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, and author on a June 1st paper that appeared in Science. “But they might also be sublimation erosion patterns, or due to a combination of particle movement and sublimation erosion.”
The existence of young dune formations on Pluto tells researchers that all these complex systems are at play in this dynamic dwarf planet. The New Horizons data is showing a geologically vibrant surface, sparking continuous discussion among the scientific community.
“More research will help us pin down their origin,” said Jeff. “Whatever they are, it’s clear Pluto is one of the most amazing and complex objects in our solar system.”
A dwarf planet is a planetary-mass object that is neither a planet nor a natural satellite. That is, it is in direct orbit of a star, and is massive enough for its gravity to compress it into a hydrostatically shape (usually a spheroid), but has not cleared the neighborhood of other material around its orbit.