Cthulhu Hides in the Mountains of Madness on Pluto

NASA’s probe New Horizons has reached Pluto, called home, and started sending pictures. The first detailed images sent back to Earth show a range of icy mountains rising as high as 11,000 feet (3,500 meters) above the surface of the dwarf planet.

The mountains, which formed about 100 million years ago and are probably composed of Pluto’s water-ice “bedrock.”, may still be geologically active today.

The interpretation is clear. New Horizons must have found the range of icy mountains prophetically described by H.P. Lovecraft in his 1931 masterpiece “At the Mountains of Madness.” The hiding place where Cthulhu sleeps can’t be far.

Cthulhu, the dark cosmic deity featured in Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu” and Charlie Stross’ “A Colder War,” a loose sequel to “At the Mountains of Madness,” is said to be sleeping in the ice until the cosmic conditions are right, at which point it will reassert its dominion over this part of the universe. Though the NASA scientists haven’t yet located the deity’s dark, icy hiding place, one of the features detected by New Horizons has already been informally named after Cthulhu.


It Will Take 16 Months to Send All Images Back to Earth

CharonThe top image was taken about 1.5 hours before New Horizons closest approach to Pluto, when the craft was 47,800 miles (77,000 kilometers) from the surface of the planet. The image easily resolves structures smaller than a mile across.

The right image of Pluto’s satellite Charon reveals a youthful and varied terrain. Scientists are surprised by the apparent lack of craters. A swath of cliffs and troughs stretching about 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) suggests widespread fracturing of Charon’s crust, likely the result of internal geological processes. The image also shows a canyon estimated to be 4 to 6 miles (7 to 9 kilometers) deep. In Charon’s north polar region, the dark surface markings have a diffuse boundary, suggesting a thin deposit or stain on the surface.

New Horizons also observed the smaller members of the Pluto system, which includes four other moons: Nix, Hydra, Styx and Kerberos.

New Horizons will continue to study Pluto for a few days, after which the probe will move to study other objects in the Kuiper belt. However, New Horizons sends data at about 2,000 bits per second, so it will take 16 months to send all the Pluto encounter science data back to Earth.

“Because it gets one shot at the Pluto system, New Horizons is designed to gather as much data as it can, as quickly as it can – taking about 100 times more data on close approach than it can send home before flying away,” NASA explains. “Although the spacecraft will send select, high-priority datasets home in the days just before and after close approach, the mission will continue returning the data stored in onboard memory for a full 16 months.”

Images from NASA.

Giulio Prisco is a freelance writer specialized in science, technology, business and future studies.