spaceSpace and Physics

Mountains On Pluto May Be Topped With Methane Snow


Jonathan O'Callaghan

Senior Staff Writer

243 Mountains On Pluto May Be Topped With Methane Snow
The enhanced color images on the right show the brighter regions that may be caused by methane snow. NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

This week in Pluto news, scientists think they may have found evidence for methane snow on the tops of a mountain on the dwarf planet.

In images returned by the New Horizons spacecraft, a bright material can be seen on the uppermost slopes of one mountainous region. And it’s thought that this material may be methane snow that condensed from the atmosphere, resting on the top of the mountains and coating it in this reflective material.


"That this material coats only the upper slopes of the peaks suggests methane ice may act like water in Earth's atmosphere, condensing as frost at high altitude," said John Stansberry, a New Horizons science team member from Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, in a statement.

This mountain region is found in Cthulhu Regio, a large dark feature 3,000 kilometers (1,850 miles) long and 750 kilometers (450 miles) wide, which stretches nearly halfway around Pluto’s equator. Its dark appearance is thought to be due to dark tholins, complex molecules that form when methane is exposed to sunlight.

While ice has been spotted in other locations before, this is the first instance of a frost, or snow, being theorized on the surface. The image was taken by the New Horizons spacecraft from a distance of 33,900 kilometers (21,100 miles) during its flyby on July 14, 2015.


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