Pluto's equator is covered in skyscraper-sized methane ice blades

As NASA continues to examine the treasure trove of data from the New Horizons project, one interesting phenomenon at Pluto's equator has been identified as massive ice blades made of methane.

Via the Ames Research Center:

“When we realized that bladed terrain consists of tall deposits of methane ice, we asked ourselves why it forms all of these ridges, as opposed to just being big blobs of ice on the ground,” said Moore. “It turns out that Pluto undergoes climate variation and sometimes, when Pluto is a little warmer, the methane ice begins to basically ‘evaporate’ away.”

Scientists use the term “sublimation” for this process where ice transforms directly into gas, skipping over the intermediate liquid form.

Similar structures can be found in high-altitude snowfields along Earth’s equator, though on a very different scale than the blades on Pluto. The terrestrial structures, called penitentes, are snow formations just a few meters high, with striking similarities to the vastly larger bladed terrain on Pluto. Their spiky texture also forms through sublimation.

Here's what they look like on earth, on a considerably smaller scale:

* Exotic Ice Formations Found on Pluto (YouTube / NASA's Ames Research Center) Image: Wikimedia/ESO

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