Cthulhu Macula


Cthulhu Macula
Cthulhu Regio.jpg
Feature typemacula
Coordinates0°N 90°E / 0°N 90°E / 0; 90Coordinates: 0°N 90°E / 0°N 90°E / 0; 90
Length3,000 km
Width1,000 km

Cthulhu Macula (formerly Cthulhu Regio[1][2]) is a prominent surface feature of the dwarf planet Pluto, that is reminiscent of a whale in shape. It is an elongated dark region along Pluto's equator, 2,990 km (1,860 mi) long and one of the darkest features on Pluto.[3] It is west of the Sputnik Planitia region of Tombaugh Regio, also known as Pluto's "heart", and to the east of Meng-P'o, the easternmost of Pluto's "Brass Knuckles".[4]


The dark color of the region is speculated to be the result of a "tar" made of complex hydrocarbons called tholins covering the surface, which form from methane and nitrogen in the atmosphere interacting with ultraviolet light and cosmic rays.[5][6][7] Tholins have been observed on other planetary bodies, such as Iapetus, Umbriel, and in the atmosphere of Titan, although the irregular and disconnected nature of the dark spots on Pluto has not yet been explained.[5] The presence of craters within Cthulhu indicates that it is perhaps billions of years old, in contrast to the adjacent bright, craterless Sputnik Planitia, which may be as little as 100 million years old;[8] however, some areas of Cthulhu Macula are smoother and much more modestly cratered, and may be intermediate in age. The eastern 'head' region consists mostly of heavily cratered 'alpine' terrain. The middle part of Cthulhu Macula is meanwhile a smooth plain, probably formed through large cryovolcanic eruptions, like Vulcan Planum on Charon. This part appears to be younger than the alpine terrain to the east, but there are nevertheless several large craters located in this region. The western 'tail' region of Cthulhu Macula was imaged in much lower resolution than the eastern part, but it can be inferred that this is a hilly landscape bordered by mountains to the west.[9][10][11] Higher-resolution images of the border between the two regions indicate that lighter material from Sputnik Planitia, composed of nitrogen, carbon monoxide, and methane ices, may be invading and overlaying the easternmost part of the dark Cthulhu Macula.[12] As of 30 July 2015, the eastern "head" region had been imaged in much higher resolution than the western "tail" region.[13]


H. P. Lovecraft's drawing of Cthulhu, seated, facing left
Cthulhu, the namesake of the macula

The feature was first identified in the initial image, first published on 8 July 2015, of Pluto returned after the New Horizons probe recovered from an anomaly that temporarily sent it into safe mode. NASA initially referred to it as the Whale in reference to its overall shape.[14] By 14 July 2015, the provisional name "Cthulhu" was being used by the New Horizons team. It was named after the fictional deity from the works of H. P. Lovecraft and others.[4] The character Cthulhu initially appeared in Lovecraft's 1928 short story "The Call of Cthulhu", as a malevolent entity hibernating within an underwater city in the South Pacific. In the book, it is the subject of worship by a number of human cults asserting that while it is currently trapped, Cthulhu will eventually return.[15] In many of Lovecraft's stories, particularly The Whisperer in Darkness, the transneptunian planet Yuggoth is implied to be the same as Pluto, which was discovered around the time Lovecraft was writing the stories.[16]

Surface features of Pluto are being given provisional, informal names that are selected from a list generated from an online poll conducted earlier in 2015, along the theme of "creatures related to underworld mythologies."[4] "Cthulhu" was the most popular name in this category of the poll.[17] The name received positive reaction from the press and social media,[4][18] with a Chicago Tribune editorial supporting the name and its democratic origin.[19] The name Cthulhu may be submitted to the IAU as an official name.[4][20] Cthulhu Macula was initially called a regio, but is now considered to be the largest of the maculae that span Pluto's equator.[1][2]

Cthulhu Macula contains many craters and linear features that have also been given informal names. Oort Crater, K. Edgeworth Crater, and Elliot Crater are large craters along Cthulhu's northern edge; Brinton Crater, Harrington Crater, and H. Smith Crater are near Cthulhu's eastern edge, and Virgil Fossa and Beatrice Fossa are linear depressions in Cthulhu's interior.[13]

See also


  1. ^ a b Amanda M. Zangari; et al. (November 2015). "New Horizons disk-integrated approach photometry of Pluto and Charon". Aas/Division for Planetary Sciences Meeting Abstracts #47. American Astronomical Society, DPS meeting #47, id.210.01: 210.01. Bibcode:2015DPS....4721001Z.
  2. ^ a b Stern, S. A.; Grundy, W.; McKinnon, W. B.; Weaver, H. A.; Young, L. A. (2018). "The Pluto System After New Horizons". Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics. 56: 357–392. arXiv:1712.05669. doi:10.1146/annurev-astro-081817-051935.
  3. ^ Feltman, Rachel (8 July 2015). "New map of Pluto reveals a 'whale' and a 'donut'". The Washington Post. Retrieved 14 July 2015.
  4. ^ a b c d e McKinnon, Mika. "Places on Pluto are Being Named for Your Darkest Imaginings". Retrieved 23 July 2015.
  5. ^ a b Petersen, C. C. "Why the Dark Spots on Pluto?". TheSpacewriter's Ramblings. Retrieved 23 July 2015.
  6. ^ Moskowitz, Clara. "Strange Spots on Pluto May be Tar and Frost". Space.com. Retrieved 23 July 2015.
  7. ^ Betz, Eric. "Pluto's bright heart and Charon's dark spot revealed in HD". Astronomy Magazine. Retrieved 23 July 2015.
  8. ^ "NASA's New Horizons Finds Second Mountain Range in Pluto's 'Heart'". NASA. Retrieved 23 July 2015.
  9. ^ Keeter, Bill (2 June 2016). "Secrets Revealed from Pluto's 'Twilight Zone'". NASA. Retrieved 7 August 2017.
  10. ^ http://www.hou.usra.edu/meetings/lpsc2016/pdf/2310.pdf
  11. ^ Moore, J. M.; McKinnon, W. B.; Spencer, J. R.; Howard, A. D.; Schenk, P. M.; Beyer, R. A.; Nimmo, F.; Singer, K. N.; Umurhan, O. M.; White, O. L.; Stern, S. A.; Ennico, K.; Olkin, C. B.; Weaver, H. A.; Young, L. A.; Binzel, R. P.; Buie, M. W.; Buratti, B. J.; Cheng, A. F.; Cruikshank, D. P.; Grundy, W. M.; Linscott, I. R.; Reitsema, H. J.; Reuter, D. C.; Showalter, M. R.; Bray, V. J.; Chavez, C. L.; Howett, C. J. A.; Lauer, T. R.; et al. (2016). "The geology of Pluto and Charon through the eyes of New Horizons". Science. 351 (6279): 1284–1293. arXiv:1604.05702. Bibcode:2016Sci...351.1284M. doi:10.1126/science.aad7055.
  12. ^ "New Horizons Discovers Flowing Ices on Pluto". NASA. Retrieved 25 July 2015.
  13. ^ a b "Informal Names for Features on Pluto". New Horizons. Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. 29 July 2015. Archived from the original on 5 September 2015. Retrieved 31 July 2015.
  14. ^ "NASA's New Horizons: A 'Heart' from Pluto as Flyby Begins". NASA. 8 July 2015. Retrieved 15 July 2015.
  15. ^ Lovecraft, H.P (First published 1928). "The Call of Cthulhu". Wikisource. Retrieved 6 June 2012. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  16. ^ Lovecraft, Howard Phillips (1931). "The Whisperer in Darkness (chapter 8)". Wikisource. Retrieved 18 April 2018. Astronomers, with a hideous appropriateness they little suspect, have named this thing "Pluto." I feel, beyond question, that it is nothing less than nighted Yuggoth—and I shiver when I try to figure out the real reason why its monstrous denizens wish it to be known in this way at this especial time.
  17. ^ Flood, Alison. "Will HP Lovecraft's deity give his name to a feature on Pluto?". the Guardian. Retrieved 23 July 2015.
  18. ^ "How 'Mordor' and 'Cthulhu' found their way onto Pluto and its moons". Mashable. Retrieved 23 July 2015.
  19. ^ "Tolkien and Lovecraft got spots on Pluto. Keep it that way". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 23 July 2015.
  20. ^ Feltman, Rachel (14 July 2015). "New data reveals that Pluto's heart is broken". The Washington Post. Retrieved 14 July 2015.

External links

  • Media related to Cthulhu Regio at Wikimedia Commons