International Astronomical Union adopts Hawaiian names for two locally-discovered asteroids; the naming program is based at UH Hilo

The names were selected by Hawaiian immersion students during the groundbreaking A Hua He Inoa pilot nomenclature project started last year through ‘Imiloa, the UH Hilo astronomy center.

Group photo with the names Kamo‘oalewa and Ka‘epaoka‘āwela displayed on large posters in front of the group.
A Hua He Inoa program participants display the Hawaiian names of two asteroids.

Hawaiian names for two locally discovered asteroids have been announced. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) recently adopted the Hawaiian names Kamo‘oalewa and Ka‘epaoka‘āwela, which were selected by Hawaiian immersion students during the groundbreaking A Hua He Inoa pilot nomenclature project started last year through the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo astronomy center.

The celestial discoveries represent the second and third indigenous names accepted by the organization following ‘Oumuamua, named in 2017. Kamo‘oalewa is sourced from the kumulipo, and alludes to a celestial object that is oscillating, reflecting the asteroid’s path in the sky when viewed from Earth. Ka‘epaoka‘āwela means “the mischievous opposite-moving companion of Jupiter,” evoking the image of a retrograde object of unknown origin.

“It is exciting to see the Hawaiian language and cultural practices elevated on a global stage with the official recording of Kamo‘oalewa and Ka‘epaoka‘āwela, not to mention the IAU’s consideration of Pōwehi for the incredible black hole discovery,” says Ka‘iu Kimura, executive director of the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center at UH Hilo where the naming program is based.

At the A Hua He Inoa pilot program in October 2018, leaders in astronomy and Hawaiian-medium education convened Hawai‘i Island students, cultural practitioners and top research scientists to develop Hawaiian names for the two unusual celestial bodies.

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Following the IAU’s acceptance of ‘Oumuamua, the icy comet and first interstellar visitor to the solar system detected by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope on Haleakalā, the official adoption of Kamo‘oalewa and Ka‘epaoka‘āwela carries forward Hawai‘i’s legacy of astronomical observation and celestial naming that dates back over a thousand years.

About A Hua He Inoa

A Hua He Inoa is a collaborative effort lead by ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center at UH Hilo and the Maunakea Observatories. A Hua He Inoa creates pathways in which language and culture are at the core of modern scientific research, and is the first in the world to weave traditional indigenous practices into the process of officially naming astronomical discoveries.

 

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