Pluto is becoming a beautiful nightmare
After nine years and millions of miles, New Horizons has finally reached the dwarf planet Pluto, and the images it’s sending back are astounding. It will be about 16 months before the bulk of the data makes its way back to Earth, but that hasn’t stopped scientists from going ahead and naming many of the landscapes the probe has captured.
And some of the names are dark.
There is an ancient human tradition of arriving at a new location and naming it. It’s so engrained in our psyche that there can be people living there, and we’ll still name it.
One day, we may discover a planet populated with sentient aliens who tell us unequivocally that their planet is named Mylopia or whatever, and we’ll still rename it Bobland. Even as the aliens show us their lengthy history, we’ll pat them on the head and tell them to enjoy the bounty of Bobland. It’s just how we roll.
Pluto is no different (minus the sentient aliens).
The names began with the dark spot near Pluto’s southern pole, which was initially nicknamed “the whale” due to its shape. That same spot has a new name: Cthulu.
For those that are unaware, Cthulu is the name of one of the old, terrible gods featured in H.P. Lovecraft’s horror stories. Cthulu was originally a work of fiction, but cults have sprung up around it. Some claim Lovecraft was writing about – or possibly channeling – true stories, while others just ascribe to the philosophy, fictional or not.
And according to HuffPo, Cthulu is just one of the delightful names now gracing the surface of the dwarf planet.
While many believe that Pluto is named after a cartoon dog, thus proving that our educational system is broken, the dwarf planet was named after the mythological god of the underworld. That has encouraged many to keep in the vein and choose names of a similar fashion.
Along with the area known as Cthulu, another section has been named Meng-p’o, after the Buddhist goddess of forgetfulness and amnesia. Another still was named Balrog after the fiery demon created by J.R.R. Tolkien in the Lord of the Rings books.
But wait, there’s more!
There are two areas Vucub-Came and Hun-Came, both of which take their names from Mayan death gods. A region known as Krun is so named for the Mandaean lord of the underworld, and the newly christened Ala region is the name for the Ibo ruler of the underworld.
Morgoth, the evil being in Tolkien’s The Silmarillion also got a nod.
The Pluto names are still very much informal, but they are the working names of the regions for now. The scientists studying Pluto needed to be able to uniformly identify locations amongst each other, and Cthulu was apparently a better option than “southern dark sport,” “visual anomaly 1196,” or “that blobby thing on the left.”
The names may be officially submitted in the near future to the International Astronomical Union, the group that killed the planet Pluto and rebranded it as a dwarf planet. The IAU will have a fair amount of work in the future establishing set names – including several new pushes to get Pluto bumped back up to planetary status.
Right now the names are all taken from a single, overarching theme. The “Underworld Beings” theme beat out “Space Missions and Spacecraft,” “Scientists and Engineers,” “Historic Explorers,” and “Underworld locations,” and “Underworld Travellers.”
The winning theme was voted on by an online poll via OurPluto.org. The IAU gives the discoverer of the region first naming rights, but after that it will likely take these names into consideration.
As for Charon, the choices so far are a bit less evil. The majority of the themes are related to fiction, and include fictional characters, locations, vessels, and more. Depending on how the voting goes, you may be able to one day discus landing on “Tardis” or “Spock,” assuming the theme and names stick.
Again, these Pluto names are all informal, but until the IAU makes an official decision, our dark, tentacled lord awaits us at the edge of the solar system. Perhaps it can exert its horrible and majestic influence on the IAU to get Pluto bumped back up to planetary status.