January 25th, 2006


The Space Probe to Yuggoth

There's a war on terror going on, or so they tell me. Medicare part D screwups are putting people in the hospital, especially schizophrenics who can't get their prescriptions refilled. US companies like Ford are going under. And we have to rebuild most of Biloxi and half of New Orleans from scratch. So why are we bothering to send an automated research vehicle to Yuggoth (with only one delay, yay!), and why should anybody but a handful of nerds care?

Well, for one thing, it's not like it was a spontaneous decision. NASA didn't just wake up one morning, decide to jaunt on over to Pluto/Yuggoth for breakfast, drive over to Space Probes -r- Us to pick one up, flag down the next rocket, and stick it on board, then drive home and wash the dishes or whatever. NASA got assigned the task, decades ago, of sending space probes to every planet in the solar system. If there's anything we learned (that we're all allowed to know) back during first (documented, well known) contact with extra-terrestrial intelligence back in the 1920s, it's that we know awfully little about conditions anywhere much beyond the surface of the Earth. (In either direction from Earth's surface, up or down. But I digress.) And that much of what we thought we knew was wrong. And if there's anything else we learned from all of that, it's that what you don't know can kill you. So yes, NASA's been sending robotic probes, not shoggoths but simple mechanical/computerized probes way too dumb to be corrupted into doing anything nasty even if there are hostile intelligences there, to every planet in the solar system for 30 some-odd years. This time it just happened to finally be Pluto's turn.

The very reasons why you might care less about Pluto than about other planets are the reasons why it actually matters. Pluto isn't like any of the other planets. In fact, some astronomers would rather label it not the outermost of the planets but instead the innermost of the large objects in the Kuiper belt, not a small planet but a large comet in a still-unperturbed orbit. Or, just as interestingly, in maybe an interestingly perturbed orbit; it's the largest object we know the orbit of that's not in the plane of the ecliptic. So having all kinds of data on everything from Mercury out to Neptune tells us nothing about what we're going to find when, years from now, the New Horizons probe finally makes its fly-by of Pluto. And whether it's a planet that's potentially perturbing the orbit of comets or a really big comet itself, we really could stand to know more about the objects in the Kuiper belt, since that's where every comet to fall into the inner solar system originated.

We do, in theory, know one of the things that we are likely find when we get out there: an awful lot of Vermont and Himalayan granite, that was painstakingly excavated from Earth and flown out to Pluto by the Mi-Go, the intelligent space-faring winged-lobster-shaped fungi from Yuggoth. We may even see Mi-Go, and if we do, it'll be the first time we've seen any since they evacuated the Earth around the time of the blaze of publicity about their existence here back when Miskatonic University's Dr. Wilmarth first revealed proof of his contact with them to journalist Howard Lovecraft for his Pulitzer Prize winning story, "The Whisperer in Darkness." But let's not get our hopes up too high about Yuggoth -- or our fears. It's not a given that the Mi-Go even have any presence left in our solar system. It's not a given that if they are still on Yuggoth, as they call Pluto, that they'll show up to New Horizon's sensors, since they didn't show up on Wilmarth's photographs. If they have left Yuggoth behind, it's not a given that they left their city behind for New Horizon's sensors to scan. And if they are there, let me set your mind at ease, there's no particularly good reason to think that any of them are still worshipping Yog Sothoth. (I've suggested elsewhere that it may be for fear of what contact with Yog Sothoth was doing to some of their kind's minds and morals that the species cut off contact with our planet.)

But no, spin whatever conspiracy theories you want for pure fun or for fiction, but we're sending a space probe to Pluto for perfectly valid planetary science reasons, not because of a 70 or so year out of date contact with aliens who allegedly once were based there.

(For those of you who just tuned in to this particular series of essays, no, I'm not serious. This is only the latest in a series of fictional essays I've written from the point of view of someone just like myself who grew up in an alternate universe where the 1920s and 30s science fictional horror of H.P. Lovecraft was all real, was straight journalism about extra-terrestrial and extra-dimensional threats to all of human existence ... and where it turned out to be no bigger a deal than any other threat to human existence, from chemical warfare to rock and roll, from runaway inflation to The Bomb, and we just cope with it. I don't have a complete list of them handy, but the easiest way to find them is to click on the "cthulhu" tag, here or above.)