Astronomers giving more Hawaiian names

HILO — Hawaiian language experts and astronomers are teaming up to name more discoveries in a way that doesn’t just allow them to be cataloged and tracked.

The goal also is to connect the celestial objects with the host culture through ‘olelo Hawaii, and share that knowledge with the rest of the world.

An example is the naming of ‘Oumuamua — the first known interstellar space rock — by Larry Kimura, an associate professor of Hawaiian language at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, in 2017.

But the effort also involves students, some of whom have submitted Hawaiian names for two unusual asteroids discovered by a Hawaii telescope to the International Astronomical Union.

About 10 Hawaiian immersion students spent two days at the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo last October, meeting with language experts and scientists to come up with the names for the objects discovered, like ‘Oumuamua, with Pan-STARRS on Haleakala. The workshop was a pilot for the new naming program called A Hua He Inoa.

They chose Ka‘epaoka‘awela — meaning mischievous opposite-moving companion of Jupiter — for an asteroid near Jupiter that’s moving in the opposite direction, and Kamo‘oalewa — which alludes to an oscillating celestial object.

If accepted by the IAU, they will become the official names for the objects, which would otherwise only be known by a series of numbers or letters.

This way, they are giving the objects an identity, and helping elevate Hawaiian language and culture to a larger stage, organizers noted.

“When we’re naming these things, they are more like people,” said Larry Kimura, who teamed up with Ka‘iu Kimura, his niece and ‘Imiloa executive director, and others to create the program.

“In Hawaiian tradition, everything is related.”

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