“Pōwehi” –Galaxy M87’s Gargantuan Black Hole Named After Hawaiian Creation Chant

Galaxy M87

 

That first black hole at the center of Galaxy M87 seen in the Event Horizon Telescope image is now called “Pōwehi” from the Kumulipo, a centuries-old Hawaiian creation chant of 2,102 lines; it means “the adorned fathomless dark creation.” It stems from “pō,” which means powerful, unfathomable and ceaseless creation, and “wehi,” an honorific befitting someone who would wear a crown, according to it’s benefactor, Larry Kimura, a professor of Hawaiian language with the University of Hawai’i.

“Pōwehi as a name is so powerful because it provides real truths about the image of the black hole that we see,” Dr. Jessica Dempsey deputy director of the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Maunakea, Hawaii, said in a video posted by the university. Professor Kimura, reports the New York Times, who has been studying the chant for years, said the naming “all just fell into place.” He added that it would help promote the preservation of the Hawaiian indigenous language, which had been endangered.

 

EHT Image

 

“It was remarkable in the simplicity of the language and how it resonated in the astrophysical concept of what we saw,” said Geoffrey C. Bower, chief scientist of the Hawai’i operations at the Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics.

Pōwehi has been adopted as the official Hawaiian name of the black hole. Gov. David Y. Ige of Hawaii issued a proclamation declaring April 10 “Pōwehi Day.”

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A more formal approval for the name would have to come from the International Astronomical Union, Dr. Bower said. A submission to the union would come only if the consortium of more than 200 scientists and 13 funding institutions involved in the project agreed to support it.

Elsewhere, around the planet, renowned astronomers and physicists expressed their wonder at the iconic image and event.

Astrophysicist Janna Levin author of Black Hole Blues with Columbia University notes for The Guardian that we are actually seeing the black hole as it was 55 million years ago, because it’s so far away the light takes that long to reach us. “Over those eons, we emerged on Earth along with our myths, differentiated cultures, ideologies, languages and varied beliefs,” she says. “Looking at M87, I am reminded that scientific discoveries transcend those differences.”

“The gates of hell, the end of space and time.” That was how black holes were described at the press conference in Brussels where the first ever photograph of one was revealed to an excited audience. And this black hole, a super-massive object at the center of the galaxy Messier 87 (M87 shown above), really is a monster, observed Ellie Mae O’Hagan for The Guardian. “Everything unfortunate enough to get too close to it falls in and never emerges again, including light itself. It’s the point at which every physical law of the known universe collapses. Perhaps it is the closest thing there is to hell: it is an abyss, a moment of oblivion.”

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“We have seen what we thought was unseeable,” said Shep Doeleman, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and director of the effort to capture the image, during a Wednesday news conference in Washington, D.C.

“Making an image of a black hole doesn’t come easily, as many people can tell you,” said Doeleman, an astrophysicist at Harvard University and project director of the global endeavor known as the Event Horizon Telescope (see video at bottom of the page). “But we consider ourselves to be explorers. We exposed a part of the universe that had never been seen before.”

The breakthrough image shows a ring of fuzzy light orbiting a dark circular center. The light is from the superheated gas as it is being bent by gravity around the black hole itself, Doeleman said. “This is the geometry of space and time being laid bare to you,” he said. “You are seeing the gravitational well of the black hole.”

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“We’ve been studying black holes so long that sometimes it’s easy to forget that none of us has actually seen one,” says France Córdova, the director of the National Science Foundation, which funded the effort. The Event Horizon Telescope is actually 10 telescopes, sprinkled across four continents in the United States, Mexico, Chile, Spain, and Antarctica, and designed to scan the cosmos in radio waves. For a few days in April 2017, the observatories studied the skies in tandem, creating a gargantuan telescope nearly the size of the planet.

The Daily Galaxy via New York Times Space & Cosmos and The Daily Galaxy