Puzzling signal on Saturn’s moon Rhea may finally be explained


An image from Cassini of Saturn's icy moon Rhea

An picture from Cassini of Saturn’s icy moon Rhea

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

A thriller on Saturn’s moon Rhea may have finally been solved. When NASA’s Cassini spacecraft flew previous the planet’s second-largest moon earlier than the tip of its mission in 2017, it noticed a mysterious compound. It seems, that compound may be hydrazine, which is commonly utilized in rocket gas.

As Cassini flew previous Saturn’s moons, it examined the daylight bouncing off their surfaces to find out what they’re fabricated from. On Rhea, in addition to a number of of the different moons, one thing on the floor absorbed a portion of that gentle within the ultraviolet vary of the spectrum.

“We noticed there was this dip in the spectrum and wondered what it was, but we speculated that it might be some type of water ice,” says Amanda Hendrix on the Planetary Science Institute in California. “We puzzled over what it is for a long time.”


She and her colleagues noticed how gentle bounced off a number of compounds in laboratory experiments, and located two that appeared to match what Cassini noticed on Rhea: hydrazine and chlorine. While both might be a match for Cassini’s observations, it’s laborious to provide you with a method for chlorine to be produced on Rhea’s floor, Hendrix says.

Hydrazine, on the opposite hand, might be made in reactions between chemical substances that we all know exist on the icy moon. It might additionally float over from the thick environment of the neighbouring moon Titan. Even although Cassini did use hydrazine as gas for its thrusters, these thrusters have been by no means fired close to Rhea, so the researchers are assured that it didn’t come from the spacecraft.

“This is a possible explanation for the feature on Rhea, but we still have work to do to figure out why it occurs on other moons,” says Hendrix. “This is a clue to some process that is happening in the whole Saturn system, and probably elsewhere as well.”

Journal reference: Science Advances, DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aba5749

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