Hydrocarbons on Saturn's satellites Iapetus and Phoebe

Dale P. Cruikshank, Eric Wegryn, C. M. Dalle Ore, R. H. Brown, J. P. Bibring, B. J. Buratti, R. N. Clark, T. B. McCord, P. D. Nicholson, Y. J. Pendleton, T. C. Owen, G. Filacchione, A. Coradini, P. Cerroni, F. Capaccioni, R. Jaumann, R. M. Nelson, K. H. Baines, C. Sotin, G. BellucciM. Combes, Y. Langevin, B. Sicardy, D. L. Matson, V. Formisano, P. Drossart, V. Mennella

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

77 Scopus citations


Material of low geometric albedo (pV ≤ 0.1) is found on many objects in the outer Solar System, but its distribution in the saturnian satellite system is of special interest because of its juxtaposition with high-albedo ice. In the absence of clear, diagnostic spectral features, the composition of this low-albedo (or "dark") material is generally inferred to be carbon-rich, but the form(s) of the carbon is unknown. Near-infrared spectra of the low-albedo hemisphere of Saturn's satellite Iapetus were obtained with the Visible-Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) on the Cassini spacecraft at the fly-by of that satellite of 31 December 2004, yielding a maximum spatial resolution on the satellite's surface of ∼65 km. The spectral region 3-3.6 μm reveals a broad absorption band, centered at 3.29 μm, and concentrated in a region comprising about 15% of the low-albedo surface area. This is identified as the C{single bond}H stretching mode vibration in polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) molecules. Two weaker bands attributed to {single bond}CH2{single bond} stretching modes in aliphatic hydrocarbons are found in association with the aromatic band. The bands most likely arise from aromatic and aliphatic units in complex macromolecular carbonaceous material with a kerogen- or coal-like structure, similar to that in carbonaceous meteorites. VIMS spectra of Phoebe, encountered by Cassini on 11 June 2004, also show the aromatic hydrocarbon band, although somewhat weaker than on Iapetus. The origin of the PAH molecular material on these two satellites is unknown, but PAHs are found in carbonaceous meteorites, cometary dust particles, circumstellar dust, and interstellar dust.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)334-343
Number of pages10
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2008


  • Iapetus
  • Organic chemistry
  • Satellites
  • Spectroscopy
  • composition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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