Why methane snow covers Pluto’s peaks

Image: Methane on Pluto

The inset pictures show a section of Pluto’s Cthulhu Regio that includes a reddish plain as well as a 260-mile-long mountain range. The far right inset indicates the distribution of methane ice in purple, as observed by New Horizons’ Ralph/MVIC imager during the spacecraft’s flyby on July 14, 2015.

The dark terrain informally known as Cthulhu Regio sweeps nearly halfway around Pluto’s equator, with light-colored peaks sticking up from the surrounding plains. What is that light-colored stuff? Apparently, it’s methane frost.

Evidence for Pluto’s methane meteorology was laid out today by the science team behind NASA’s New Horizons mission.

The piano-sized spacecraft’s cameras zeroed in on Cthulhu when it flew past Pluto last July 14. Most of the region is covered with a layer of dark reddish tholins, a substance that forms when sunlight breaks down hydrocarbons such as methane.

Then there are those bright peaks in southeast Cthulhu: When the scientists looked closely at compositional data collected by New Horizons’ Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera, they found that the bright areas on top of Cthulhu’s mountains matched up with the spectral signature of methane ice.

Get the full story from GeekWire.

About Alan Boyle

Award-winning science writer, creator of Cosmic Log, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.
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