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Sublimation-driven convection in Sputnik Planitia on Pluto

Abstract : Sputnik Planitia is a nitrogen-ice-filled basin on Pluto1. Its polygonal surface patterns2 have been previously explained as a result of solid-state convection with either an imposed heat flow3 or a temperature difference within the 10-km-thick ice layer4. Neither explanation is satisfactory, because they do not exhibit surface topography with the observed pattern: flat polygons delimited by narrow troughs5. Internal heating produces the observed patterns6, but the heating source in such a setup remains enigmatic. Here we report the results of modelling the effects of sublimation at the surface. We find that sublimation-driven convection readily produces the observed polygonal structures if we assume a smaller heat flux (~0.3 mW m−2) at the base of the ice layer than the commonly accepted value of 2-3 mW m−2 (ref. 7). Sustaining this regime with the latter value is also possible, but would require a stronger viscosity contrast (~3,000) than the nominal value (~100) considered in this study.
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Submitted on : Tuesday, May 10, 2022 - 12:20:09 PM
Last modification on : Thursday, May 12, 2022 - 3:19:37 AM

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Adrien Morison, Stéphane Labrosse, Gaël Choblet. Sublimation-driven convection in Sputnik Planitia on Pluto. Nature, 2021, 600, pp.419-423. ⟨10.1038/s41586-021-04095-w⟩. ⟨insu-03663670⟩

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