Scientists Discover Methane Snow On Pluto’s Peaks

Posted: Mar 5 2016, 2:51am CST | by , Updated: Mar 5 2016, 8:52am CST, in News | Latest Science News

 
Scientists Discover Methane Snow on Pluto’s Peaks
Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

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Researchers suspect that the peaks of snowcapped mountains are covered with methane, a major component in natural gas on Earth.

Pluto has surreal geographical and compositional features on its surface. One of the most recognizable features of Pluto is Cthulthu Regio, a dark colored area covering the dwarf planet’s equatorial region. The area has been measured approximately 1,850 miles long and 450 miles wide, a bit larger than the state of Alaska.

Researchers from NASA’s New Horizon team have found an exotic chain of snowcapped mountains in the southeast corner of Cthulthu Regio and they suspect that the peaks are coated with frozen methane, a major component in natural gas on Earth.

The mountain range stretches across 260 miles and the upper slopes of its highest peaks are covered with bright material which is significantly different from the deep red color in the rest of the plain. Researchers think that the bright material could be methane that has changed onto the peaks due to Pluto’s atmosphere.

“That this material coats only the upper slopes of the peak suggests methane ice may act like water in Earth’s atmosphere, condescending as frost at high altitude.” John Stansberry, a member of New Horizon’s science team said in a statement.

The conclusion was drawn on the basis of evidence that the location of the bright ice is exactly the same where the concentrations of methane have been observed.

The latest version is the enhanced color image of the region and the colors are enhanced to highlight its features.

The image was taken by New Horizon’s high resolution camera at a range of approximately 21,100 miles, just 45 minutes before when spacecrafts made its closest approach to Pluto in July 2015.

Cthulhu Regio resembles a whale in shape and the dark color of the region is speculated to be the result of tholins which was formed when methane and other gases in the atmosphere interacts with ultraviolet light and cosmic rays. Cthulhu terrain is varied in nature. It has mountains, craters and fractures in some areas while other is relatively smooth.

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