A new study reveals that there are dunes present on Pluto, but they're not like the ones found on Earth. Dunes on Pluto aren't made of sand. They're made out of methane ice grains instead.
This is the sixth place in the solar system where scientists have found dunes.
Methane Dunes On Pluto
For dunes to be present, there has to be a force that forms them. On Earth, that force is wind. The dunes were found by the New Horizons probe as it passed by a mountain range present on Pluto. Before this discovery, dunes had only been found on Earth, Mars, Venus, Saturn's moon Titan, and comet 67P.
Scientists used models to determine that the sand-sized grains of solid methane ice were shaped into dunes by winds on Pluto. They believe that the methane ice could've been thrown into the atmosphere by the melting of surrounding nitrogen ice, or they could've been blown down from the mountains near where they were found.
Before New Horizons, the clearest image of Pluto was only 12-pixels. Using all of the information gathered by New Horizons reveals that Pluto is a geologically active world with an atmosphere, which may or may not have liquids on its surface.
The dunes were found on the boundary of the Sputnik Planitia ice plain. Research shows that the dunes are spread across an area that is less than around 45 miles (75 kilometers) across. It also found that they were created by moderate winds of around 19 to 25 miles per hour (30 to 40 kilometers per hour).
Lead author of the study Matt Telfer from the University of Plymouth says that science shows that every rocky planet with an atmosphere has dunes, but they weren't sure if it would be present on Pluto.
Even though the structures are referred to as dunes, there is a chance that they may not be it. An astronomer unrelated to the study told Gizmodo that there needs to be higher-resolution images of the structures to determine whether or not they may be dunes.
Scientists plan to continue to learn more about the history of the dunes on Pluto by creating computer simulations. They believe that these will reveal the role of wind on Pluto's geology.