The dark side of Iapetus

D. P. Cruikshank, J. F. Bell, M. J. Gaffey, R. Hamilton Brown, R. Howell, C. Beerman, M. Rognstad

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

83 Scopus citations


This paper presents new photometric and spectrophotometric observations of the dark (leading) hemisphere of Saturn's satellite Iapetus. Spectrophotometry from 0.3-1.0 um (May 1979) shows the dark hemisphere to be very red, similar to a few asteroids and the Moon, but with no spectral features attributable to olivine or pyroxene. Near-infrared spectrophometry in the regions 1.4-2.5 um (May 1981) and 3.0-3.8 um (February 1981) reveals water ice absorption bands, probably resulting from the polar caps intruding onto the dark hemisphere. The reflectance of Iapetus is unlike that of carbonaceous chondrites or C-type asteroids and most closely resembles the reflectance (and low albedo) of carbonaceous (organic) residue from the Murchison C2 carbonaceous chondrite. The Murchison material has the same red slope and a probable spectral feature near 0.6 um seen in Iapetus data. Three hypotheses for the formation of the dark hemisphere are discussed in light of the observational data. The favored hypothesis is that debris from Phoebe or other unknown outer satellites of Saturn impacts the dark hemisphere of Iapetus as Poynting-Robertson drag causes the debris to spiral toward Saturn. The high-velocity impacts preferentially remove ice from the satellite's surface, causing enrichment of included carbonaceous material intrinsic to Iapetus. The reflectance of Phoebe itself is significantly different from that of Iapetus, suggesting that relatively little Phoebe debris lies on the dark hemisphere. There remains the possibility that the impacting debris originates from another body of composition similar to the Murchison residue and that this material is exposed on the surface of Iapetus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)90-104
Number of pages15
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1983
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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