As winds on the dwarf planet are able to reach levels approaching 25 miles per hour, scientists concurred that a location like this, complete with a mountain range and the Sputnik Planitia ice plain, would be absolutely ideal for collecting enough methane to form such dunes on Pluto.
Following spatial analysis of the dunes and nearby wind streaks on the planet's surface, as well as spectral and numerical modelling, scientists believe that sublimation (which converts solid nitrogen directly into a gas) results in sand-sized grains of methane being released into the environment.
After an epic trek through the Solar System that took almost a decade, New Horizons sped by at a speed of 58,536 km/h (36,373 mph), gathering data as it passed. Scientists came to the conclusion that the slopes of the mountains on Pluto snow consisting of methane and possibly nitrogen, which under certain conditions is transferred by the winds in the valley.
"What makes this discovery surprising is that the sediment can be mobilized despite Pluto's tenuous atmosphere, with a surface pressure (1 Pa) that is a factor of 100,000 times lower than that on Earth", Alexander Hayes, an assistant professor of astronomy at Cornell University who was not involved in the new study, wrote in an accompanying "Perspectives" piece in the same issue of Science.
A team of scientists has found that dunes on Pluto are composed of very small frozen methane particles.
"He quotes the late Sir Patrick Moore, the famous BBC Sky at Night presenter, describing Pluto in 1955 as "...plunged in everlasting dusk, silent, barren, and touched with the chill of death..." and says that that perspective has to shift.
The team has yet to determine the height of the dunes; Mr Telfer guesses they're at least tens of metres tall. They now plan to carry on investigating the dunes through computer simulations, which will in turn further enlighten them about how Pluto's winds shaped its geography.
The new study on the discovery of the methane dunes on Pluto can be read in the journal, Science.
While the mysterious dunes on Pluto may look like sand dunes, they are really formed out of tiny particles of methane.
This observation has taken the researchers by surprise as they had never imagined that the planet, having an atmosphere, which is near about a hundred thousand times thinner as compared to the atmosphere of the Earth could be robust enough for giving rise to dunes formation. Previously, scientists had spotted them on Mars, Titan, and even on a freaking comet.
They suggest nitrogen ice coating the surface of Sputnik Planitia transformed into gas that lifted methane particles into the air.
Though New Horizons is now too far from Pluto to gather any more useful information about the dwarf planet, its mission is still far from complete.
"It turns out that even though there is so little atmosphere, and the surface temperature is around -230 Celsius (-382 Fahrenheit), we still get dunes forming".
Sand dunes rise next to Pluto's mountains.
On Earth, to form such dunes with sand requires stronger winds, said co-author Eric Parteli, lecturer in Computational Geosciences at the University of Cologne. At the moment the space probe New Horizons is approaching another object in the Kuiper belt TRANS-Neptunian asteroid 2014 MU69.