‘Imiloa naming program: Students propose ‘ōlelo Hawaiʻi names for exoplanet, star

The proposed names Leimakua and Kawelo were chosen to honor ancestral knowledge and the familial bond between the planet and star.

Large group of people stand for photo.
A Hua He Inoa program participants with ʻImiloa staff and Hawaiian language and astronomy experts (Photo courtesy ‘Imiloa)

A planet-and-star pair located more than 400 light years away could become the next celestial objects bearing inoa (names) in ‘ōlelo Hawaiʻi or the Hawaiian language.

Kaiu Kimura
Ka‘iu Kimura

A Hua He Inoa, a program out of ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo that provides Hawaiian names to astronomical discoveries, recently mentored 10 high school interns from the Hawaiian language immersion charter school Ke Kula ‘o Nāwahīokalani‘ōpu‘u to propose the names for the Neptune-mass gas giant planet and its star as part of the global 2022 NameExoWorlds competition.

The proposed names Leimakua and Kawelo were chosen to honor ancestral knowledge and the familial bond between the planet and star.

“Nui ka ha‘aheo! We are incredibly proud of these students who brought forth their own knowledge and wisdom to this process,” says Ka‘iu Kimura, executive director at ‘Imiloa. “Their contributions will deepen our Hawai‘i relationships to astronomical discovery as the story of all of our connections to the universe unfolds.”

Blue celestial body with star in background.
Artist’s rendering of HAT-P-26 b and HAT-P-26.

The proposed inoa were identified by looking at the metaphorical relationship between planet (HAT-P-26 b) and star (HAT-P-26) as being one between a parent and its child. The exoplanet detected in 2010 with the help of the Submillimeter Array and W. M. Keck Observatory on Maunakea, closely orbits its host star every 4.2 days.

“Every time I look up at the stars, I always get excited and I wonder what’s out there,” says Ka‘imi Galima-Elvena, a Hua He Inoa student intern. “And, to be able to connect that to my culture, is very important because, to me, this is not about one single person. This is about all of us as a community and how we live in Hawai‘i.”

Leimakua and Kawelo

In ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i, makua means parent or parental relationship. The haumāna (students) chose Leimakua for the planet since its close orbit reminded them of a lei around the star and because a lei can also symbolize the bond between them.

“There is a poetic saying in Hawaiian where lei or necklaces symbolize children and that the makua or parent never casts aside this lei because of this connection between parent and child,” says Galima-Elvena.

For the proposed name of the star, haumāna also looked to the epic tale, Ka Mo‘olelo Hiwahiwa o Kawelo. In a portion of the story, a boy named Kawelo gathers water in his ‘umeke (calabash or gourd), which symbolizes the knowledge that is being perpetuated. The word welo also means to float in a stream, or flutter in the wind, and symbolically represents a continuation or lineal legacy.

“When you fill that ‘umeke of water, you are building up the life of your community,” says Kahaukepa ‘Aipia-Peters, a A Hua He Inoa student intern. “So that if we bring up the name of the mo‘olelo, which is Kawelo Leimakua, in this ‘umeke of knowledge, then we will continue on this knowledge and honor the knowledge of our ancestors.”

Larry Kimura Pictured
Larry Kimura

Haumāna were assisted by ‘Imiloa staff, Kumu (teacher) Larry Kimura, an associate professor at UH Hilo’s Ka Haka ‘Ula O Ke‘elikōlani College of Hawaiian Language, representatives from Maunakea Observatories and Ke Kula ‘o Nāwahīokalani‘ōpu‘u.

Approval of names

The International Astronomical Union, the recognized global authority for naming objects in space, will decide on winning submissions for this ExoWorld Naming competition they are hosting by spring 2023. If the names are accepted, they will join a list of six astronomical discoveries given ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i names by Hawaiian language speakers as part of ‘Imiloa’s integral program.

Via UH System News from ‘Imiloa’s media release.

About ‘Imiloa

‘Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawai‘i is an outreach educational center on the campus of the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo. Its mission is to share the legacy of Hawai‘i exploration in many fields through a wide range of exhibits, community outreach, programs, and other forms of informal science education. The center is distinctive in it’s architectural structures of conical-shaped buildings that house a welcoming lobby, exhibit hall, full-dome planetarium, café, and gift shop. The center is surrounded by nine acres of native gardens.

‘Imiloa is located at the UH Hilo University Park of Science and Technology, 600 ‘Imiloa Place, off Komohana and Nowelo streets.

Gardens at Imiloa

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