The discovery of penitentes or 'thin blade' snow formations in Pluto similar to that found on Earth, paves the way to understanding the dwarf planet's atmosphere.
The researchers at York University in Toronto studied the NASA's New Horizon images of Pluto specifically in the Tartarus Dorsa
region. They found icy spires formation, identified as penitentes,
showcased a bladed terrain which marks the first time that such feature is found beyond Earth.
Penitentes in Mt. Aconcagua, Andes, Argentina
The researchers used computer simulations to identify the penitentes. The spires found which are bigger than those found on earth rise 1,600 feet (500 meters) and are 2-3 miles apart from each other.
“This gargantuan size is predicted by the same theory that explains the formation of these features on Earth,” explained John Moores who led the study.
“In fact, we were able to match the size and separation, the direction of the ridges, as well as their age: three pieces of evidence that support our identification of these ridges as penitentes.”
The group finds that the penitentes may have been formed in the 10 million years ago or longer.
Icy planets with no atmosphere do not have these kind of formation. This indicates that at least a low atmosphere allow these penitentes to form.
The size of the penitentes between Pluto and Earth may be due to the difference between the two planets' atmosphere.
“Exotic differences in the environment give rise to features with very different scales,” Moore stated. “This test of our terrestrial models for penitentes suggests that we may find these features elsewhere in the Solar System, and in other solar systems, where the conditions are right.”
The scientists published their report
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