Newly discovered quasar given Hawaiian name through ‘Imiloa naming program

In honor of its discovery from Maunakea, the quasar was given the Hawaiian name Pōniuāʻena by thirty Hawaiian immersion school teachers during a workshop led by UH Hilo’s ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center.


Above video from Big Island Video News.

From a media release from ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center and Maunakea Observatories:

Astronomy researchers announced a remarkable discovery from the telescopes atop Maunakea. Pōniuāʻena is the most massive quasar known in the early Universe—formed only 700 million years after the Big Bang. Its name was created by a collaboration of 30 kumu (teachers) from Hawaiian immersion schools as a part of the A Hua He Inoa program of the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo.

Kaiu Kimura
Ka‘iu Kimura

“It took the collaboration of all of our wonderful Hawaiian immersion school teachers to develop this Hawaiian name that is so crucial to our understanding of the objects themselves,” says Kaʻiu Kimura, executive director at ʻImiloa. “Coming together for projects like these is what ʻImiloa is all about.”

The A Hua He Inoa collaboration has named world-renowned  astronomical  discoveries, including the asteroids ‘Oumuamua, Kamoʻoalewa and Kaʻepaokaʻāwela, and the black hole Pōwehi.

“It is so important that we continue on this path of merging science and discovery with our Hawaiian culture,” says Kimura. “Programs like A Hua He Inoa ensure that we can continue to forge this path forward, together for years to come.”

Pōniuāʻena

Quasars are the most energetic objects in the Universe, powered by their supermassive black holes. Pōniuāʻena contains a monster black hole that challenges the current theories of supermassive black hole formation and growth in the early Universe. The light seen from Pōniuāʻena traveled through space for over 13 billion years since leaving the quasar just 700 million years after the Big Bang.

Two illustrations of a black hole, circular star formations around empty space.
An artist’s impression of the formation of the quasar Pōniuāʻena, starting with a seed black hole 100 million years after the Big Bang (left), then growing into a billion solar mass black hole 700 million years after the Big Bang (right). Image credit: International Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/P. Marenfeld.
Larry Kimura
Larry Kimura

The name, Pōniuāʻena, evokes the unseen spinning source of creation, surrounded by brilliance. Using traditional naming practices, the kumu were led by renowned linguistic expert Larry Kimura, an associate professor of Hawaiian language and Hawaiian studies at UH Hilo, through an exploration of the significance of the finding, and how its unique characteristics serve as a platform to showcase the sophistication and nuance of the Hawaiian language on a global stage.

A Hua He Inoa cohort participant and kumu Kauʻi Kaina says, “I am extremely grateful to have been part of this educational experience. It is indeed a rare learning opportunity and so relevant to apply these cultural values to further the well-being of the Hawaiian language beyond ordinary contexts, allowing the language to live throughout the universe.”

The science team used three Maunakea Observatories to achieve this result: W. M. Keck Observatory; the international Gemini Observatory, a program of the National Science Foundation’s National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory (NOIRLab); and the UH-owned United Kingdom Infrared Telescope.

“We recognize there are different ways of knowing the universe,” says John O’Meara, chief scientist at Keck Observatory. “Pōniuāʻena is a wonderful example of interconnectedness between science and culture, with shared appreciation for how different knowledge systems enrich each other.”