Astronomy Science X-Files

500 Meter Tall Ice Towers On Pluto – Found By NASA

500 Meter Tall Ice Towers On Pluto - Found By NASA

The space is beautiful and exciting at the same time. Immense information has been gathered with respect to the Solar System. However, till date there is a lot which remains a mystery! And, this is the primary acumen novel missions are launched by NASA, to aid in understanding the same. In the same context, NASA’s New Frontiers Program launched a space probe.

What was the objective of the launch of this spacecraft?

The primary objective of the launch of the spacecraft was pertaining to performing a flyby study of the Pluto. And, another was to pursue fly by and study the Kuiper belt objects.

And, if the results are to be witnessed, it has been successful in availing some really interesting information.

What has been the discovery?

The NASA’s New Horizon space probe has discovered ice towers reaching a height of 500 m into the sky. The image, taken by the probe showed disparate and distinct bladed terrains. The region, which it was found in, was the Tartarus Dorsa region. It was in this realm that the New Horizon flew over by in July 2015.

What are these ridges?

  • These ridges are known as penitentes.
  • It is normal on the Earth’s surface to find such penitentes.
  • In fact, they are found at high altitudes.
  • They take the shape of towers or blades.
  • These blades are made of hardened snow or ice.
  • Another significant aspect about the penitents is that they all are angled together in the direction of the Sun.

Why the name ‘penitentes’?

Well, these formations are called Penitentes, since they appear like many numbers of people are kneeling in penance.

The research which settles them to be present in Pluto is attributed to the Engineer John Moores, York University, Canada. When, NASA first received the pictures, all it could make out was-“intricate but puzzling patterns of blue-grey ridges and reddish material in between”.

500 Meter Tall Ice Towers On Pluto - Found By NASAImage:NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Are the penitents found on Earth same as those found on Pluto?

Definitely not! The ice ridges of Pluto are massive towers which are almost 500 m high. However, those on Earth reach about a meter vertically. So, this makes them almost hundred times taller than the Earth versions.

It will be worthwhile to add, what Moores said , with respect to the identification of the ridges -“The identification of the ridges of Tartarus Dorsa as penitentes suggests that the presence of an atmosphere is necessary for the formation of penitentes, which would explain why they have not previously been seen on other airless icy satellites or dwarf planets,”

  • The exotic difference in the environment gives rise to such attributes with different type of scales.
  • In the case of Pluto, the temperature on Earth is colder and also the atmosphere is thinner.
500 Meter Tall Ice Towers On Pluto - Found By NASAPenitentes at the Atacama Desert in Chile. Credit: ESO/B. Tafreshi

What is the phenomenon which gives rise to Penitentes?

They are fabricated due to erosion. At here, ice sublimates in high cold conditions. This ensures the direct conversion into water vapor. In the case of Pluto, penitentes are made of methane and nitrogen.

In accordance with Moores, it is a high probability that penitentes, can be found elsewhere in the Solar System as well.

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