Status Report

Penitentes as the origin of the bladed terrain of Tartarus Dorsa, Pluto

By SpaceRef Editor
August 3, 2017
Filed under , ,

John E. Moores, Christina L. Smith, Anthony Toigo, Scott Guzowich
(Submitted on 20 Jul 2017)

Penitentes are ablative features observed in snow and ice that, on Earth, are characterized by regular cm to tens of cm spaced bowl-shaped depressions whose edges grade into tall spires up to several meters tall (Nichols et al. 1939, Lliboutry et al. 1954, Claudin et al. 2015). While penitentes have been suggested as an explanation for anomalous radar data on Europa (Hobley et al. 2013), hitherto no penitentes have been identified conclusively on other planetary bodies. Regular ridges with spacing of 3000 m to 5000 m and a depth of ∼500 m with morphologies that resemble penitentes (Fig. 1) have been observed by the New Horizons spacecraft (Moore et al. 2016, Stern et al. 2015, Gladstone et al. 2016, Moore et al. 2017) in the Tartarus Dorsa (TD) region of Pluto (approximately 220-250∘ E, 0-20∘ N). Here we report simulations, based upon a recent model (Claudinet al. 2015) adapted to conditions on Pluto (Gladstone et al. 2016, Toigo et al. 2015), that reproduce both the tri-modal orientation and the spacing of these features by deepening penitentes. These penitentes deepen by of order 1 cm per orbital cycle in the present era and grow only during periods of relatively high atmospheric pressure, suggesting a formation timescale of several tens of millions of years, consistent with cratering ages and the current atmospheric loss rate of methane. This time scale, in turn, implies that the penitentes formed from initial topographic variations of no more than a few 10s of meters, consistent with Pluto’s youngest terrains.

Comments:    12 pages, 5 figures, 1 table, authors’ accepted version of the manuscript submitted as a letter to Nature and published 12th Jan 2017
Subjects:    Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP)
Journal reference:    Nature, Volume 541, p188-190, 12 January 2017
DOI:    10.1038/nature20779
Cite as:    arXiv:1707.06670 [astro-ph.EP] (or arXiv:1707.06670v1 [astro-ph.EP] for this version)
Submission history
From: Christina Smith 
[v1] Thu, 20 Jul 2017 18:32:00 GMT (4956kb,D)

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