In 2015, the spacecraft New Horizons discovered incredible snow-capped mountains on Pluto, which strikingly resemble the mountains of Earth. Such a landscape has never been observed anywhere else in the solar system. However, as the atmospheric temperatures of our planet decrease in altitude, on Pluto they heat up in altitude as a result of solar radiation.
So where does this ice come from? An international team led by scientists from CNRS1 conducted this study. They first found that the “snow” in Pluto’s mountains actually consists of frozen methane, with traces of this gas present in Pluto’s atmosphere, just like water vapor on Earth. To understand how the same landscape can be created under such different conditions, they used a climate model for the dwarf planet, which revealed that due to its special dynamics, Pluto’s atmosphere is rich in methane gas at altitudes.
As a result, only the tops of the mountains, high enough to reach this enriched area, the air contains enough methane to condense. At lower altitudes, the air is too low in methane to form ice. This study, published in Nature Communications, may also explain why the thick methane glaciers observed elsewhere on Pluto have incredible rocky ridges, unlike the flat glaciers on Earth, which consist of water.
Explanation of solid methane and nitrogen glaciers of Pluto
Pluto’s equatorial mountains are covered by methane frosts as a result of a unique atmospheric process. Nature Communications (2020). DOI: 10.1038 / s41467-020-18845-3
Quote: Pluto’s mountains are snow-covered, but not for the same reasons as on Earth (2020, October 13), extracted on October 13, 2020 from https://phys.org/news/2020-10-mountains-pluto- snowcapped-earth. html
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