I enjoyed reading Brittany Lyte’s recent Civil Beat article titled “This Is What Scientists Would Be Missing If The TMT Doesn’t Go On Mauna Kea.” I appreciate the depth, balance, and civility with which Civil Beat has been covering the Thirty Meter Telescope.

NOTE: pick the correct link

Lyte’s article reviews astronomic concepts and discoveries that will without doubt emerge with the use of this new class of unprecedentedly large telescopes. It occurred to me that there will be new terms for these discoveries. If the TMT is not built on Maunakea we will all miss the opportunity for Hawaiian words, traditions, and concepts to populate new cosmologic discoveries that were outlined in the Civil Beat article.

I note that already five of the 10 largest telescopes in the world are in Chile, that the Extra Large Telescope (the southern hemisphere sister telescope to the TMT) is already being constructed in Spanish-speaking Chile…and envisioning that the TMT may be banished to second-choice Spain’s Canary Islands, we can expect a lot more Spanish terms in the heavens.

Hawaiians will miss the opportunity to add more to some of the Hawaiian words and concepts that have recently populated the cosmos. Examples include:

Laniākea. A word honoring Polynesian navigators that encompasses the concepts of “immense heaven,” “open skies” or “wide horizons.” The term has been applied to newly understood super-clusters of galaxies and is the name for the supercluster that includes our own solar system, including the Milky Way galaxy, along with some 100,000 other galaxies, all gravitationally sailing in the same gigantic cosmic pool.

Poweha. The name of the first black hole that was captured in telescope images. The word embraces the concept of “embellished dark source of unending creation,” according to a University of Hawaii press release. The term’s origin is the Kumulipo, an 18th-century chant describing the creation of the Hawaiian universe.

Laniākea: The Milky Way over the Pacific Ocean. Flickr: Paul Stewart

‘Oumuamua. The first interstellar object to be detected within our solar system. This was the first space rock to have been identified as forming around a star outside our solar system. The name comes from the Hawaiian term for messenger or scout.

Two newly observed and unusual asteroids: Kamo‘oalewa and Ka‘epaoka‘āwela. The first — an apparent fragment of a larger asteroid — was given a Hawaiian name which refers to an offspring that travels on its own.

The second — which travels in a peculiar backwards orbit near Jupiter — garnered a name which refers to its mischievous behavior.

Two of the currently five identified dwarf planets in our solar system: Haumea and Makemake. Haumea is a Hawaiian goddess of fertility and childbirth. Makemake is the Polynesian creator of humanity and god of fertility. (The three other dwarf planets are named after Roman and Greek deities.)

I submit that a Maunakea TMT has the potential to honor Hawaiian culture and traditions and that its presence may allow Hawaiians to participate in a meaningful way in guiding humankind’s continuing knowledge voyage through time and space.

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About the Author

  • Eric Lindborg
    Eric Lindborg lives in Kailua-Kona. He is a physician who has resided in the Pacific for over 37 years — in the Marshall Islands for 27 years and in Kona for almost 11 years. He has a long-term interests in both astronomy and cultural preservation. He and his wife Cris played a central role in establishing the Marshallese Cultural Center at Kwajalein Atoll.