Pluto’s ‘skyscrapers’: What’s responsible for dwarf planet’s giant ice blades?

 

Pluto’s surface hosts blades of ice that soar to the height of skyscrapers — and researchers have narrowed down exactly how the dramatic features form.

According to new research, the blades are made mostly of methane ice, and form similarly to (much shorter) spikes of snow and ice on Earth.

When the New Horizons spacecraft flew by Pluto in July 2015, researchers observed an astonishing variety of terrains across the dwarf planet. Flat and cratered areas on the dwarf planet’s surface point to its varied geological activity, composition and evolution over time.

The jagged spikes targeted in this latest study form at the highest altitudes on Pluto’s surface, near its atmosphere, where methane is able to freeze out of the atmosphere — skipping straight from solid to gas without ever becoming liquid. When the climate is a bit warmer, parts of the methane ice sublimate away, heading straight back to gas form, according to the new study.

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