BYU professor and team discover ‘sand dunes’ made of methane ice on Pluto

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PROVO, Utah -- Scientists are seeing the surface of Pluto for the first time.

BYU Professor Jani Radebaugh and a team of international scientists discovered a series of “sand dunes” made of methane ice on Pluto.

“Added all together, these sand dunes add up to about half the size of Utah Lake,” Radebaugh explained. “That tells us that the atmosphere works with the surface on Pluto and helps shape it.”

Radebaugh also discovered other Earth-like structures, including mountains and glaciers.

“They actually stand up about a thousand feet up above the planet floor, kind of like our own mountains in Utah, in the Wasatch,” Radebaugh said.

Discoveries that remind Radebaugh of home.

“I can drive down to the sand dunes at Little Sahara and be driving around on something that’s almost exactly the same as the surface of Pluto,” Radebaugh said. “That’s mind blowing.”

Looking at Pluto’s surface for the first time, Radebaugh said she and her team are already learning about Earth and how the solar system was formed.

“Now we know that any body that has an atmosphere in our solar system, has got dunes,” Radebaugh said.

On the brink of more discoveries, Radebaugh is excited to see where their findings will lead them in our solar system.

“Really the big question that we’re asking is, is there life outside of Earth?” Radebaugh emphasized. “We’re really starting to look deep down and pay attention so that we can be ready for when we find if there’s life out there.”

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