ʻImiloa Astronomy Center: Hawaiian name Leleakūhonua given to dwarf planet

ʻImiloa Astronomy Center, in conjunction with its Hawaiian naming program, announced the name for Leleakūhonua, which has the largest orbit of any dwarf planet or trans-neptunian object in the solar system.

Rendering of planet.
Artist’s concept of a hypothetical planet orbiting far from the Sun. (Photo credit: Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC))

A dwarf planet of high interest has a new Hawaiian name, thanks to the work of 30 Hawaiian immersion school kumu (teachers). ʻImiloa Astronomy Center, an educational outreach facility of the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo, announced the name for Leleakūhonua (previously cataloged as 2015 TG387), which was discovered by the Subaru Telescope atop Maunakea and has the largest orbit of any dwarf planet or trans-neptunian object in the solar system.

Leleakūhonua references a life form mentioned in the Hawaiian creation chant, the Kumulipo. The name compares the dwarf planet’s orbit to the flight of migratory birds, and evokes a yearning to be near Earth.

A Hua He Inoa

This is the sixth world-renowned astronomical discovery named by A Hua He Inoa, a Hawaiian naming program of ʻImiloa in partnership with UH Hilo’s Ka Haka ʻUla O Keʻelikōlani College of Hawaiian Language. In July 2020, Hawaiian immersion kumu recruited by A Hua He Inoa through a teacher development program named two celestial discoveries: dwarf planet Leleakūhonua and massive quasar Pōniuāʻena.

Kaiu Kimura
Ka‘iu Kimura

“It is so important that we continue on this path of refocusing science and discovery within our Hawaiian culture,” says Kaʻiu Kimura, executive director at ʻImiloa. “The worldview and linguistic competence of these Hawaiian immersion school teachers came to the fore with the creation of these names that are critical for our understanding of these types of cosmic discoveries. Facilitating positive collaboration between Hawaiʻi-based science experts and Hawaiian language experts through projects like A Hua He Inoa is what ʻImiloa is all about and we look forward to continuing to forge this path, together for years to come.”

During the naming process, kumu learned creation stories from different cultures and created related curriculum. “Ua nui ko mākou ʻiʻini e hoʻopili i ke ʻano o ke kiʻinahana a nā kūpuna ma ka noʻonoʻo, ke kālailai, a me ke kilo ʻana i ke ʻano o ia mau mea e like me ka nui i hiki (We were eager to apply, as closely as possible, the way that our forebears approached thinking, studying, observing and naming these kinds of objects in nature),” explains Kumu Kauʻi Kaina, one of the participants in the program.

Astronomers are especially interested in Leleakūhonua’s immense orbit. It takes 32,000 years for the object to complete one full orbit around the Sun. It was first discovered in 2015 and will make its closest approach to the Sun in 2078. The enormous, inclined, and elliptical orbit further suggests the existence of a ninth planet (Planet X) in the outer solar system for which astronomers in Hawaiʻi and around the world have been hunting.

In summer 2020, the name Leleakūhonua was submitted to the International Astronomical Union and approved as the object’s official, internationally recognized name.


-via UH System News