Planet gets name from isle goddess
HILO » The newest planet discovered in the solar system has officially been given a Hawaiian name: Haumea, goddess of earth and fertility.
The name of the object, a "dwarf planet" in the same category and same region as Pluto, was approved Wednesday by the International Astronomical Union in Paris.
Unlike other regular and dwarf planets which are round, Haumea is shaped like a fat cigar or an elongated egg. Astronomers think the shape comes from being hit and spun by another object billions of years ago.
In a blog, California Institute of Technology astronomer Michael E. Brown said he discovered the object on Dec. 28, 2004. Teammate Chad Trujillo of the Gemini Observatory in Hilo said Brown made the discovery reviewing data obtained at the Mt. Palomar Observatory in California in 2003. Follow-up work was done at the Gemini and Keck I telescopes on Mauna Kea.
Teammate David Rabinowitz of Yale University proposed the name Haumea. "As the goddess of the earth, she represents the element of stone," the International Astronomical Union said.
Planet Haumea is unusual in the outer solar system in being mostly stone rather than the more common ice. At the moment it is 50 times farther from the sun than the Earth, but at times its orbit brings it to just 35 times that distance.
Haumea is small, just 775 miles long and as narrow as 270 miles across. Yet it has two moons, Hi'iaka and Namaka, named after two children of the goddess.
Another of Haumea's children is volcano goddess Pele, but that name is already used as the name of a giant sulfur volcano on Jupiter's moon Io.
Haumea is the second dwarf planet beyond Neptune with a Polynesian name. Makemake was the name approved for another dwarf in June.
Makemake is the Rapa Nui, or Easter Island, name for a creation god. The Hawaiian equivalent is ma'ema'e, which means purity, but there is no corresponding Hawaiian god.
Besides Haumea, Makemake and Pluto, the two other dwarf planets are Eris and Ceres, the only one in the inner solar system in the asteroid belt.
Although familiarity with Polynesian culture played a role in selecting the names Haumea and Makemake, another factor was that astronomers are running out of Greek and Roman gods. Those names got used up in the 1800s identifying hundreds of asteroids, Brown said in his blog.