Scientists Discover Mystery Material on Surface of Saturn’s Moon

One of Saturn’s moons has a mystery material on the surface and scientists are trying to figure out what it is. Now, there are 80 of those smaller orbs to focus on, but Rhea is the one with a strange substance hanging out there. Science Advances had a study this week about how the second-largest moon now has three dense rings around it. But, things are much weirder than just the fact that the planet and its mini-me now match. Scientists are poring over old Cassini data to figure out what exactly is going on. Spectroscopy studies have indicated that there is some sort of unidentifiable substance on the moon’s surface as well. So, to recap, you have the first one of these smaller objects with rings ever recorded and some sort of mystery substance slinking around.

Before we start joking about aliens or symbioses though, Rhea is an extremely harsh environment. The temperature on the moon ranges from -281 degrees to -364 degrees Fahrenheit on the dark side. (Rhea constantly faces Saturn, helping provide that strange contrast.) NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has been on this case for decades now. Ultraviolet imaging data indicated that the surface was composed completely of ice. But, there was some sort of strange material also present.

Even stranger is the fact that researchers have a likely idea of what this mystery surface is. Bhalamurugan Sivaraman, associate professor at the Physical Research Laboratory in India, spoke to Inverse about their findings. It turns out, the material could be Hydrazine. Basically, the inorganic compound is a colorless liquid that smells like ammonia. On our planet, we use it for things like spacecraft propellant. Sivaraman and his colleagues believe that Titan, a neighboring moon, was emitting nitrogen molecules. That process allowed Rhea’s radiation to convert the nitrogen into hydrazine. This would obviously be very rare, but plausible scientifically.

“We used data from the Cassini archive in order to understand exactly what's going on," Sivaraman told Inverse. “"When we did the experiment for hydrazine, it was a match…This particular work helps us identify another molecule, which we didn’t know existed before. We would like to look for molecules that are being absorbed in other wavelengths as well.”


So, now the search is on for more Hydrazine in the rest of the Solar System. If they find it, the study of celestial bodies could be in for a big advancement.

Do you think that anything else is hiding out on those moons? Let us know down in the comments!