Sunday, February 27, 2011

Yuggoth Again

So, two weeks or so back I saw mention of the purported discovery of a new planet out at the edge of the solar system. Again. This has been going on every few years since at least the early seventies, but hope springs eternal and no sooner is a theory disproven than a new one arguing a slightly different variant replaces it. This time they're calling it TYCHE, and predicting that it's four times the size of Neptune and comes complete with rings and moons, its orbit being way out in the Oort Cloud. Here's the link:

The amusing part about the story is the two scientists' announcement of the discovery, along with the declaration that they're now going to start looking for some evidence to prove their theory. You'd think it'd be the other way around, right? But then the search for PLANET X has been going on for a long time, whether within the orbit of Mercury ('Vulcan'), or on the other side of the sun (called 'Mondath' in DR WHO; I forget what the real-world scientists who proposed the Earth's dark twin called it). Mostly, though, they look beyond the furthest known planet to see what might be out there on the edges of the solar system, which turns out to be stranger and more interesting all the time.

Historically, it's a search with mixed results. Uranus they found more or less by accident, as (somewhat closer to home) was the discovery of Ceres. Neptune was the great success story: predicted by a French mathematician and discovered (after a search lasting, it is said, only a little over an hour) by a German astronomer using his data (although the waters got muddied a bit by an English claim demanding co-credit on dubious grounds).* The search for Pluto went on for decades, and inspired Lovecraft (who'd been a keen amateur astronomer in his youth) to create the cold, dark, sinister world of Yuggoth, to which he prescribed chaotic properties quite unlike any real-world astronomical phenomenon.

Or, as Bellairs' King Gorm puts it when describing recent events in his all-too-interactive magical planetarium:

"We've been having some trouble with Sector 8," he said . . . "A couple of planets are doing a horn-pipe, and before long --apocalypse! I think we must blame the terrible black planet Yuggoth, which rolls aimlessly in the stupefying darkness. Ooop! Watch out!"
[They] hit the floor as a five-pronged comet . . . came whooshing down at them . . ."

--Jn Bellairs, THE FACE IN THE FROST [1969], p. 50

Perhaps they shd name the mythical Tenth** Planet YUGGOTH -- it's only fitting for a mythical planet to have a fictional name.

*cf. "The Case of the Pilfered Plane" by Sheehan, Kollerstrom, & Waff in SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN (Dec 2004), wh. produces a strong case for deliberate fraud on the part of the English claim -- the English had all the pieces but didn't put them together until after the fact, when they were assembled to create a credible paper trail for their own claim.

**or Ninth, if you don't count Pluto, which I do.


Wurmbrand said...

I thought that Yuggoth was Lovecraft's name for Pluto rather than being a further-off planet. Mebbe need to go back to "The Whisperer in Darkness." (Incidentally, the day Pluto's demotion was announced, we had a Lovecraft read-in at home and I read "Whisperer" aloud to the missus.)

Of course, if there is a tenth planet, it would be fun to name it Yuggoth anyway.

John D. Rateliff said...

Hi Dale
Yes, "YUGGOTH" is the name Lovecraft gave to the unknown planet before they found it, whereupon it was given the official name PLUTO. But since almost nothing was known about it for a long, long time, "Yuggoth" remains a good shorthand for HPL's fictional version within the Mythos.
I like the name myself for a future Plutoid/dwarf planet or 'Planet X' discovery, but the officials in charge of astronomical names aren't likely to budge from precedent, which requires all names be drawn from Classical mythology. You have to admire the discoverer of Pluto's moon, who manages to name it after his wife and a Greek godlling at the same time (Sharon/Charon).