The process is wholly new for scientists noticed a glimpse of a landscape that felt a bit familiar. The famous dwarf planet presented icy mountain tops that looked a lot like those we have on Earth.
The frosty tips likely aren’t purely uncanny – They haven’t been observed on any other planet.
Since that discovery happened, scientists kept trying to find out how snow could form on Pluto’s mountain tops and how it might have undergone a similar process to that on Earth.
An international team of scientists led by the French National Centre for Scientific Research potentially discovered the process behind the snowcapped mountains on Pluto.
It’s a bit different than what happens here on Earth, though.
The discoveries were recently detailed in a study published on Tuesday in the journal Nature.
Tanguy Bertrand, a postdoctoral from NASA’s Ames Research Center and lead author of the study, remembers seeing the images of Pluto’s mountain tops and asking himself how the snow formed.
Bertrand said that they wanted to know if Pluto’s atmosphere behaved the same as Earth’s.
The team first analyzed imagery from the New Horizon to reveal what the snow on Pluto consists of.
It turned out that the snow on the dwarf planet is made out of methane, a greenhouse gas which, on that cold planetary body, works like water vapor does on Earth.
The researchers then analyzed the atmospheric cycle that drives ice formation on Pluto by analyzing climate models resembling those used to predict Earth’s weather patterns.
“When we used this model, we discovered that Pluto’s conditions were completely different from the ones on Earth,” Bertrand stated.