If you’re thinking of heading off on a spacecation, can we recommend that you don’t visit Titan’s south pole. Because not only is it cold and stormy — but new research also reveals that it’s toxic too.
The international Cassini mission has discovered a huge swirl of cloud above the south pole of Saturn’s largest moon. The satellite’s atmosphere has cooled dramatically, you see, and in the process formed a vortex that contains frozen particles of the toxic compound hydrogen cyanide.
At 300km above the moon’s surface, the cloud is higher than scientists expected — which means that Titan is proportionally colder than they thought too. In fact, the vortex appears to be an artefact of changing seasons on the moon, much like on our planet. It’s just a shame that it’s not quite as safe to kick through clouds of hydrogen cyanide as ruby red leaves on the ground when summer turns to autumn on Titan. [ESA]