Pluto continues to capture astronomers’ attention from time to time, although the object has been downgraded to the state of a dwarf planet since 2006. NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft gathered some precious data of Pluto when it performed a flyby in 2015, and now astronomers are amazed by it.
The new data is revealing icy mountain tops on Pluto that are looking very similar to the ones from Earth.
Pluto’s snow is made of methane
Unlike the snow from Earth that is made of water, Pluto’s snow is made of methane. This type of greenhouse gas acts like water vapor does on Earth. An international team of scientists led by the French National Centre for Scientific Research has made the discovery of the atmospheric process that explains Pluto’s snowcapped mountains. Astronomers are dealing with something totally different than what they have expected from what is known about Earth’s weather systems.
Tanguy Bertrand, the lead author of the new study and a postdoctoral fellow at NASA’s Ames Research Center, says:
Pluto is very interesting because there are many landscapes that remind us of Earth, sometimes much more than any other planet in the Solar System,
Despite the fact that they have similar landscapes, there’s still plenty of dynamical processes in space that we don’t know about.
He also said:
We wanted to know if Pluto’s atmosphere behaves the same as Earth’s atmosphere,
As it’s beyond the orbit of Neptune, Pluto has very low temperatures on its surface: -375 to -400 degrees Fahrenheit (which is equal to -226 to -240 degrees Celsius). The dwarf planet also completes a full orbit around the Sun in a much bigger period of time than Earth: 248 years. There had been many debates about whether Pluto should be considered a planet or not, and Jim Bridenstine himself, the Administrator of NASA, is betting on the first scenario.
The new discovery is detailed in the journal Nature Communications.