NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is offering up new insights on the solar systems dwarf planet.
The spacecraft did a flyby of the planet at only 12,500 km above its surface. This proximity made it possible for the craft to capture more details of the planet’s surface.
Among these details were the snowcapped mountains, which scientists have long found curious as Pluto is warmer at its poles rather than cooler. In addition, the “snow” is not frozen water like it is on Earth but rather frozen methane.
A team from the French National Centre for Scientific Research recently investigated why Pluto has this frost.
They found that the way the atmosphere works on the planet results in a concentration of methane at higher altitudes. This means that only at the highest peaks of the mountains methane can form snow.
“Overall, the formation of CH4 frost on top of Pluto’s mountains appears to be driven by a process completely different from the one forming snow-capped mountains on the Earth, according to our model,” the team writes in the conclusion of their paper.
“It is remarkable that two phenomena and two materials that are so dissimilar could produce the same landscape when seen at similar resolution.”