Possible detection of hydrazine on Saturn’s moon Rhea

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Science Advances  22 Jan 2021:
Vol. 7, no. 4, eaba5749
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aba5749


We present the first analysis of far-ultraviolet reflectance spectra of regions on Rhea’s leading and trailing hemispheres collected by the Cassini Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph during targeted flybys. In particular, we aim to explain the unidentified broad absorption feature centred near 184 nm. We have used laboratory measurements of the UV spectroscopy of a set of candidate molecules and found a good fit to Rhea’s spectra with both hydrazine monohydrate and several chlorine-containing molecules. Given the radiation-dominated chemistry on the surface of icy satellites embedded within their planets’ magnetospheres, hydrazine monohydrate is argued to be the most plausible candidate for explaining the absorption feature at 184 nm. Hydrazine was also used as a propellant in Cassini’s thrusters, but the thrusters were not used during icy satellite flybys and thus the signal is believed to not arise from spacecraft fuel. We discuss how hydrazine monohydrate may be chemically produced on icy surfaces.

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