The mountains of Pluto are snowcapped, but not for the same reasons as on Earth

The mountains of Pluto are snowcapped, but not for the same reasons as on Earth
At left, the “Cthulhu” region near Pluto’s equator, at right the Alps on Earth. Two identical landscapes created by highly different processes. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute, Thomas Pesquet/ESA

In 2015, the New Horizons space probe discovered spectacular snowcapped mountains on Pluto, which are strikingly similar to mountains on Earth. Such a landscape had never before been observed elsewhere in the Solar System. However, as atmospheric temperatures on our planet decrease at altitude, on Pluto they heat up at altitude as a result of solar radiation.

So where does this ice come from? An international team led by CNRS scientists1 conducted this exploration. They first determined that the “snow” on Pluto’s mountains actually consists of frozen methane, with traces of this gas being present in Pluto’s atmosphere, just like water vapor on Earth. To understand how the same landscape could be produced in such different conditions,

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