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Sublimation-driven convection in Sputnik Planitia on Pluto

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The flyby of Pluto in 2015 by New Horizons gave us a wealth of observations showing the dwarf planet is still surprisingly active. A particularly striking feature is Sputnik Planitia, an impact crater filled with nitrogen ice. Its surface exhibits polygonal patterns that have been immediately identified as a marker of solid-state convection occurring in the ice. However, the buoyancy source remained unclear as existing models predicted patterns that are inconsistent with the ones observed. We show in this study that sublimation of the ice could, by pumping latent heat out of the underlying ice, power convection in Sputnik Planitia in a way that is consistent with observations. This would make Sputnik Planitia the first known solid layer with planetary scale dynamics that are powered by climate instead of internal sources.

This talk is part of the Bullard Laboratories Wednesday Seminars series.

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