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Dwarf planet is named through teacher program

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  • COURTESY ‘IMILOA ASTRONOMY CENTER OF HAWAII

    COURTESY ‘IMILOA ASTRONOMY CENTER OF HAWAII

Kalupeakawelo, “the kite of Kawelo,” is in the final month of this featured fall star family.

Known also as the Great Square of Pegasus, it consists of three stars from Pegasus and one star from the constellation Andromeda arranged to form a celestial square.

One side of the square is made up of Scheat in the north and Markab in the south, followed by Alpheratz in the north and Algenib in the south.

Scheat-Markab and Alpheratz-Algenib are also meridian pointers, meaning that they move across the celestial meridian at the same time and point toward the celestial north pole. In oceanic wayfinding, meridian pointers are useful for identifying the celestial poles. Meridian pointers are any two stars that cross the celestial meridian together, and in the tropics they are excellent pointer stars to the celestial north and south poles.

Running to the south of this star line through Scheat and Markab are the stars Fomalhaut, Beta Grus and Alnair; and from Alpheratz and Algenib are the stars Diphda, Ankaa and Achernar.

The northern section of this star line is formed by ‘Iwakeli‘i, also known as Cassiopeia, the Greek queen of Aethiopia.

Cassiopeia, the celestial “W,” is associated with Cepheus to the north and Andromeda to the south. Cepheus was the king of Aethiopia and Cassiopeia’s husband; Andromeda was their princess daughter. These stars form the guide strings that control Kawelo’s kite as it soars overhead Cassiopeia between the eastern and western horizons.

Featured Mauna Kea discovery

The ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center’s “A Hua He Inoa” program has given the official name Leleakuhonua to a fascinating new dwarf planet which was discovered by the Subaru Telescope on Mauna Kea.

Leleakuhonua was named alongside the quasar Poniua‘ena (Quasar J1007+2115) during an in-service teacher training program called Leo Ola Week, organized by ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center and Ka Haka ‘Ula o Ke‘elikolani at the University of Hawaii- Hilo.

Sponsored by the state Department of Education, the program involved 30 Hawaiian immersion school teachers and tasked them with compiling creation stories of different cultures, developing curriculum and producing official Hawaiian names for the quasar, Leleakuhonua, previously cataloged as 2015 TG287, and Poniua‘ena.

Astronomers are especially interested in Lelea­kuhonua’s unique orbit, as it has the largest orbit of any dwarf planet or trans-Neptunian object in our solar system.

Due to its immense orbit, it takes 32,000 years for Leleakuhonua to orbit the sun once.

Discovered in 2015, Leleakuhonua moves at a very slow pace in its orbit and won’t reach its closest approach to the sun until 2078. The enormous, inclined and elliptical orbit of Leleakuhonua further suggests the existence of a ninth planet (Planet X) in the outer solar system, which astronomers in Hawaii and around the world have been searching for.

“We were eager to apply, as close as possible, the way that our forebears approached thinking, studying, observing and naming the nature of these kinds of objects,” kumu Kau‘i Kaina, one of the participants in the program, said in a translation of his statement in Hawaiian.

Leleakuhonua refers to a life form mentioned in the Hawaiian creation chant, the Kumulipo. This name compares its orbit to the flight of migratory birds and evokes a yearning to be near Earth.

“It is so important that we continue on this path of refocusing science and discovery within our Hawaiian culture,” said Ka‘iu Kimura, executive director at the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center. “The worldview and linguistic competency of these Hawaiian immersion school teachers proved evident in the birthing of these Hawaiian names that are so critical for our understanding of these types of cosmic discoveries.

“Facilitating positive collaboration between Hawaii- based science experts and Hawaiian language experts in projects like ‘A Hua He Inoa’ is what ‘Imiloa is all about, and we look forward to continuing to forge this path forward together for years to come.”

Learn more about this unique object and the process of naming it at imiloahawaii.org.

Special events

Throughout 2020 the gas giant planets Jupiter and Saturn have been accompanying each other in the sky in a giant dance.

On the winter solstice, Dec. 21, these two planets will be so close to each other in our sky and will appear to look like a single dot. This event is known as a great conjunction, which occurs about once every 20 years, the last one taking place in May 2000.

However, the Dec. 21 conjunction will be the closest since the great conjunction in 1623, which is thought to be the first instance observed with a telescope. In previous centuries, conjunctions were significant to people attempting to predict the future with the stars.

On Dec. 21, Jupiter and Saturn will be visible low in the southwestern sky through dusk and will set at 8 p.m. The next great conjunction is expected to occur Oct. 31, 2040.

Dec. 21 marks the winter solstice for the Northern Hemisphere, when the sun will reach its southernmost position in our sky; this day will mark the shortest day and the longest night of the year.

In Honolulu the sun will rise at 7:04 a.m. and set at 5:55 p.m., yielding 10 hours, 50 minutes and 14 seconds of daylight.

The winter solstice is often considered to be the first day of winter; however, it can be better described as the midpoint of winter. This is because the days will start getting shorter and the nights longer prior to the winter solstice, and after the solstice the days will start getting longer once again. The winter solstice has also been the basis of numerous celebrations and festivals around the world for millennia.

The Geminid meteor shower, considered by many to be the best meteor shower of the year, runs through the first couple of weeks in December and peaks Dec. 14 at 2:36 p.m. Even though the peak occurs during daytime, a multitude of shooting stars will still be visible in the nights preceding Dec. 14.

The Geminid meteor shower is peculiar because the meteors do not originate from a comet, but rather from the asteroid 3200 Phaethon, whose orbit passes close to Earth’s orbit every 1.433 years. In 2017 this asteroid had an approach relatively close to Earth (about 6.2 million miles, or 27 lunar distances), which allowed astronomers to study the asteroid in great detail.

Morning observations

Throughout December the sun will rise between 6:52 and 7:08 a.m. The brightest object at this time will be Venus, rising just south of east at 5 a.m.

Venus is the third-brightest object in the sky after the sun and the full moon. Its distinctive brightness has made the planet famous throughout history, and it has been referred to as the Morning (or Evening) Star.

In the early morning hours, Hanaiakamalama, the Southern Cross, will return to our Hawaii skies. This notable shape of stars will begin to rise in the southeast about an hour before the sun rises.

December 2020 Sky Chart by Honolulu Star-Advertiser


Chad Kalepa Baybayan (Kalepa.Baybayan@hawaii.edu) serves as navigator-­in-residence and Emily Peavy (Emily.Peavy@hawaii.edu) as planetarium technician support facilitator at the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii, a center for informal science education at the University of Hawaii at Hilo showcasing astronomy and Hawaiian culture as parallel journeys of human exploration.


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