Scientists only previously referred to the first supermassive black hole ever to be photographed as M87 or simply the Black Hole. Now, the celestial object has a nickname — Powehi.
Powehi translates to "the adorned fathomless dark creation" or "embellished dark source of unending creation." It combines two Hawaiian words — "Po," which means a profound dark source of unending creation, and "wehi" or "honored with embellishments."
The black hole's name came from an 18th-century chanting that describes the creation of the Hawaiian universe. It was coined by Larry Kimura, a language professor at the University of Hawaii-Hilo.
Powehi's image was generated using data from eight radio telescopes around the world that observed the center of the galaxy Messier 87 (M87).
Astronomers believe it was only fitting to give the black hole a Hawaiian name because two telescopes that contributed to the Event Horizon observations are in Hawaii — the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope and the Submillimeter Array. Both are located at the Mauna Kea Observatory on top of a dormant volcano.
The black hole's name Powehi has yet to be approved by the International Astronomical Union, the officially recognized authority that gives names and designations to celestial bodies such as planets, minor planets, satellites of planets, stars, and any surface features of these astronomical objects.
Naming A Black Hole
"To have the privilege of giving a Hawaiian name to the very first scientific confirmation of a black hole is very meaningful to me," said Kimura.
According to Jessica Dempsey, deputy director of the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope, the name that Kimura gave to the black hole fits the scientific explanation about Event Horizon's project to capture an image of the supermassive black hole that is 55 million light-years away from Earth.
Giving names to black holes and other celestial objects can be quite complicated, especially when there are disputes related to the discovery.
There are guidelines in naming objects in the solar system and their features as well as objects outside the boundaries of the solar system such as stars, nebulae, galaxies, and exoplanets.
Astronomical objects are divided into categories such as surface features of objects in the solar system, or stars. The names of objects are different from their designations, which are similar to a catalog of numbers. As for black holes, they are often given the designation of their host galaxy, like in the case of M87* or Sagittarius A*.
"Typically, discoverers of objects propose a name to a working group, who then vets the name and checks for various issues like duplication or political meaning," according to Lars Christensen of the IAU.
While Powehi has not yet received official approval, Christensen said a very nice name has been proposed to the black hole.
Various IAU working groups normally handle the process of naming celestial objects, and their decisions primarily affect the professional astronomers.