Possible detection of hydrazine on Saturn’s moon Rhea

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.

Read more on the NSRRC website

Image: The Cassini spacecraft looks toward the cratered plains of the trailing hemisphere of Rhea

Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

High-pressure experiments provide insight into icy planets

Research team determines compression behaviour of water ice in unprecedented detail

An international team of scientists has been using X-rays to take a look inside distant ice planets. At the PETRA III Extreme Conditions Beamline, they investigated how water ice behaves at high pressure, under conditions corresponding to those inside the planet Neptune, for example. At pressures up to almost two million times atmospheric pressure at sea level on Earth, the researchers were able to observe in unparalleled detail how water ice behaves under compression. The team, led by Hauke Marquardt from the University of Oxford, is presenting its findings in the scientific journal Physical Review B.

Planetary ices – such as water ice (H2O), methane ice (CH4) and ammonia ice (NH3) – make up large parts of the ice giants in our solar system and are very likely to occur inside many exoplanets, which are planets outside our solar system. “However, the physical properties and phase diagrams of these compounds are not sufficiently known at the pressures and temperatures that prevail inside planets,” explains Marquardt. “Previous experimental studies using X-ray diffraction in a static diamond anvil cell have contributed a great deal to our understanding of ices at high pressure, but they have been unable to adequately answer numerous questions.”

Read more on the DESY website

Image : Ice at room temperature: A mixture of water ice and liquid water in a high-pressure cell at a temperature around 25 degrees Celsius and a pressure of one gigapascal, which corresponds to 10 000 times atmospheric pressure

Credit: DESY, Hanns-Peter Liermann