When New Horizons spacecraft made its flyby of Pluto in 2015, it unveiled the icy bladed spiky terrains of Pluto and researchers may have solved the mystery behind such an unusual geological ridges on Pluto.
In 2015, NASA’s New Horizons flew by Pluto and discovered the strange formations resembling giant knife blades of ice, whose origin had remained a mystery. These jagged geological ridges are found at the highest altitudes on Pluto’s surface, near its equator, and can soar many hundreds of feet into the sky – some even higher than the Eiffel Tower and are just few miles away. Making them the most mysterious and puzzling feature of Pluto, which has jagged the researchers since two years from its discovery. But researchers seem to have cracked the mystery and the blades are supposed to be related to Pluto’s complex climatic and geological conditions.
To solve the mystery of Pluto’s knifed terrains, a team of scientists at NASA’s Ames Research Centre, led by Dr Jeffery Moore, have found out that the bladed landscape may have begun with the freezing of methane in the extreme atmosphere of Pluto. You can imagine this to be similar to the way frost freezes in Arctic regions or even our freezers, remember? But why all these sharp ridged, as opposed to just being big blobs of ice on the ground?
It turns out that Pluto undergoes climate variation, and sometimes, when Pluto is a little warmer, the methane ice begins to basically ‘evaporate’ away. Researchers aren’t sure of why methane evaporates in such a pattern across Pluto, but we can find similar structures right here on Earth! Yeah! The penitentes! Those beautiful exotic icy blades, peculiarly common in Chile’s Atacama Desert – and in the labs. Well, of course we have those blades made of water here on Earth, and they don’t grow as high as those methane ice blades on Pluto, rather just 20-feet high – but they could be relatable when it comes to phenomena of their formation.
And how are these penitentes formed? You see, those sheets of snow look flat to our eyes, but there are tiny inconsistencies in the surface that can concentrate the sun’s light. These weaker spot melt faster, becoming the dips between spikes and are mostly called suncups. Since Pluto is almost 40 times far away from the Sun, the amount of methane ice is much larger and the heat is comparatively low – forming those gigantic knife blades of methane ice on Pluto – the lost planet (it is still no less than a planet to me).