Lowell Observatory Colloquia

Organic Molecules on Saturn's Satellites: Relationship to Interstellar Dust and the Solar Nebula

Dale Cruikshank, NASA Ames

Lowell Observatory, Giclas Lecture Hall, 23 May, 2012 at 3:30 p.m.

To understand the origin and evolution of our Solar System, and the basic components that led to life on Earth, we study interstellar and planetary spectroscopic signatures. The possible relationship of organic material detected in carbonaceous meteorites, interplanetary dust particles (IDPs), comets and the interstellar medium have been the source of speculation over the years as the composition and processes that governed the early solar nebula have been explored to understand the extent to which primitive material survived or became processed. The Cassini VIMS has provided new data relevant to this problem. Three of Saturn's satellites, Phoebe, Iapetus, and Hyperion, are found to have aromatic and aliphatic hydrocarbons on their surfaces. The aromatic hydrocarbon signature (C-H stretching mode at 3.28 microns) is proportionally significantly stronger (relative to the aliphatic bands) than that seen in other Solar System bodies (e.g., comets) and materials (Stardust samples, IDPs, meteorites) and the distinctive sub-features of the 3.4 Ám aliphatic band (CH2 and CH3 groups) are reminiscent of those widely detected throughout the diffuse ISM. Phoebe may be a captured object that originated in the region beyond the present orbit of Neptune, where the solar nebula contained a large fraction of original interstellar ice and dust that was less processed than material closer to the Sun. Debris from Phoebe now resident on Iapetus and Hyperion, as well as on Phoebe itself, thus presents a unique blend of hydrocarbons, amenable to comparisons with interstellar hydrocarbons and other Solar System materials. The dust ring surrounding Saturn, in which Phoebe is embedded, probably originated from a collision with Phoebe. Dust ring particles are the likely source of the organic-bearing materials, and perhaps the recently identified small particles of Fe detected on Saturn's satellites.

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