Research Article

Dunes on Pluto

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Science  01 Jun 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6392, pp. 992-997
DOI: 10.1126/science.aao2975
  • Fig. 1 New Horizons flyby imagery of landforms attributed to eolian origins.

    All images are unrectified, and thus all scales are approximate. Color-composite MVIC images are shown here for context; dune identification was performed on grayscale LORRI images (shown below). (A) Overview of Pluto centered on ~25° latitude, ~165° longitude, showing the locations of images (B) and (E) and Fig. 3A and fig. S3 (47). (B) The spatial context for SP and the AIM mountains to the west (48). Insets (C) and (D) show details of the highly regular spatial patterning, which we attribute to eolian dune formation, and two newly identified wind streaks (arrows x), along the margins of the SP/AIM border. Here the dunes show characteristic bifurcations (arrows y) and a superposition with SP’s polygonal patterning (arrow z), suggesting a youthful age for these features (49). (E) Two further wind streaks on the surface (x’), downwind of the Coleta de Dados Colles (4). These wind streaks, farther from the SP/AIM margin, are oriented differently than those close to the icefield’s edge and are still roughly orthogonal to the dunes there (50).

  • Fig. 2 Identified features.

    (A) Dunes (black lines) at the margins of western Sputnik Planitia. Prominent wind streaks are marked with orange lines. (B) Radial plot of the orientation of the dunes (n = 331), and the direction orthogonal to the wind implied by the wind streaks close to the SP/AIM margin (orange dashed line; n = 4; arithmetic mean, Embedded Image = 203°). Because the dunes have a distinct shift in orientation (fig. S1), the distribution of dunes in the three patches closest to the wind streaks within the dunefield [outlined in dashed green in (A)] has been separately highlighted on the radial plot, in green. These have a mean orientation of 204° (n = 77), highlighted by the dashed green line. The dark blue line indicates the mean trend of the border of SP and the Al-Idrisi Montes in this area (194°). (C) Frequency of dune spacings in clusters close to [red line representing dunes within the red dashed line of (A)] and far from [green line representing dunes within the green dashed line of (A)] the icefield/mountain interface. Dunes farther from the mountains are more widely spaced (Embedded Image = 700 m) than those close to the mountains (Embedded Image = 560 m). (D) Detail of the image interpretation process of the highest-resolution swath, showing linear ridges, which sometimes bifurcate but are otherwise notable for their regularity. (E) The same image with ridge lines highlighted.

  • Fig. 3 The western margin of Sputnik Planitia.

    (A) Transverse dunes are shown in black, the margin of the icefield and neighboring Al-Idrisi Montes to the northwest in blue, wind streaks close to this margin in orange, and further wind streaks farther from the mountains in yellow. There is an orientation shift between the two sets of wind streaks, matching the correlation between the distance to the margin of the icefield and mountains, and the orientation of the transverse dunes [(B); wind streaks in orange]. We interpret this as topography and/or surface composition influencing regional wind regimes.

  • Fig. 4 Analogs and comparison with sublimation features.

    (A) Details of the dunes on western Sputnik Planitia, centered on 34.35° 159.84° (location shown in Fig. 1). (B) Analogous terrestrial transverse dunes of the Taklamakan Desert, western China [Image credit: image CNRS/SPOT, DigitalGlobe and courtesy of Google Earth], and (C) the same location down-sampled to a relative resolution similar to that of the Pluto dunes (i.e., ~5 to 10 pixels per crest-crest spacing). (D) The aligned and distorted sublimation features abundant on southern and eastern SP (image centered on −4.78° 189.48°) and (E) weakly aligned to randomly oriented, shallow sublimation pits. (F) An example of a landscape revealing both eolian and sublimation-derived landforms at Mars’ southern polar ice cap from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter reveals both dark eolian bedforms (dunes and ripples), as well as sublimation pits developing in the underlying CO2 ice. [Image credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona, ESP_014342_0930_RED]

  • Fig. 5 Minimal threshold wind speeds.

    The wind speeds required for initiation (Uft, orange line) and continuation (Ut, black line) of saltation on Pluto, at a reference height of 10 m above the soil, were computed for different values of the average particle diameter (15). The dashed horizontal line indicates maximum likely wind speeds at Pluto’s surface.

Supplementary Materials

  • Dunes on Pluto

    Matt W. Telfer, Eric J. R. Parteli, Jani Radebaugh, Ross A. Beyer, Tanguy Bertrand, François Forget, Francis Nimmo, Will M. Grundy, Jeffrey M. Moore, S. Alan Stern, John Spencer, Tod R. Lauer, Alissa M. Earle, Richard P. Binzel, Hal A. Weaver, Cathy B. Olkin, Leslie A. Young, Kimberly Ennico, Kirby Runyon, The New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Science Theme Team

    Materials/Methods, Supplementary Text, Tables, Figures, and/or References

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    • The New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Science Theme Team
    • Materials and Methods 
    • Figs. S1 to S5 
    • References 

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