The Centre for Planetary Sciences at UCL / Birkbeck


APEX this week: Sublimation-driven convection in Sputnik Planitia on Pluto

08 March 2024, 1:00 pm–2:00 pm


This week at APEX, we are delighted to welcome Dr Adrien Morison, Research Fellow from the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Exeter. This will be a hybrid event, held at Birkbeck and online.

This event is free.

Event Information

Open to







Dr Andrew Rushby / Dr Joanna Fabbri


Room 612
Birkbeck, University of London
Malet Street

The Astrobiology and Planetary Exploration (APEX) seminar on Friday 8th March at 13:00 GMT features the following talk:

  • Adrien Morison (Exeter): Sublimation-driven convection in Sputnik Planitia on Pluto


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.

Please note the day and location for APEX this term: Fridays at lunchtime, 1-2 pm GMT, in room 612 in Birkbeck’s main building on Malet Street.  

A hybrid (in-person and online) format will continue this term but, of course, we warmly encourage in-person attendance to support our visiting speakers.

Details of the APEX programme can be found at the link below, although the latest information will be advertised in advance of each meeting.  If you are not on our regular mailing lists and are interested in attending these seminars, please contact joanna.fabbri AT ucl.ac.uk.


Other events in this series