Never-before-seen dunes on Pluto spotted in New Horizons images | Science News

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Never-before-seen dunes on Pluto spotted in New Horizons images

Wind and a process called sublimation helped sculpt the ripples, a new study suggests

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2:01pm, May 31, 2018
Pluto dunes

BLOWING IN THE WIND  This image from the New Horizons spacecraft’s 2015 flyby of Pluto shows dunes (center bottom and right) along a mountain range. The ripples are made of sand-sized grains of methane ice, researchers say.

Pluto’s heart-shaped plains are striped with sand dunes, where the sand is made of solid methane ice, a new study finds.

Images from the New Horizons spacecraft’s July 2015 flyby of Pluto show 357 linear ridges that planetary scientist Matt Telfer of the University of Plymouth in England and colleagues interpret as dunes that have been shaped by a novel process, the team reports in the June 1 Science.

The ripples lie parallel to the Al-Idrisi Montes mountain range at the western edge of Sputnik Planitia, the wide plains of nitrogen and methane ice that form part of Pluto’s famous heart-shaped region. Relatively strong winds, between about 1 and 10 meters per second, should blow from those mountains across the plains.

Computer simulations suggest that despite Pluto’s thin atmosphere, these winds are strong enough to keep sand-sized methane ice particles

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