MAUNAKEA, HI – Astronomy researchers today announced a remarkable discovery from the telescopes atop Maunakea. Pōniuāʻena is the most massive quasar known in the early Universe — formed only 700 million years after the Big Bang. Its name was created by a collaboration of 30 kumu (teachers) from Hawaiian immersion schools as a part of the A Hua He Inoa program of the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center.
An artist’s impression of the formation of the quasar Pōniuāʻena, starting with a seed black hole 100 million years after the Big Bang (left), then growing into a billion solar mass black hole 700 million years after the Big Bang (right). Credit: International Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/P. Marenfeld
Quasars are the most energetic objects in the Universe, powered by their supermassive black holes. Pōniuāʻena contains a monster black hole that challenges the current theories of supermassive black hole formation and growth in the early Universe. The light seen from Pōniuāʻena traveled through space for over 13 billion years since leaving the quasar just 700 million years after the Big Bang.
The name, Pōniuāʻena, evokes the unseen spinning source of creation, surrounded by brilliance. Using traditional naming practices, the kumu were led by renowned linguistic expert Dr. Larry Kimura through an exploration of the significance of the finding, and how its unique characteristics serve as a platform to showcase the sophistication and nuance of the Hawaiian language on a global stage.
“It took the collaboration of all of our wonderful Hawaiian immersion school teachers to develop this Hawaiian name that is so crucial to our understanding of the objects themselves,” said Kaʻiu Kimura, executive director at the ʻImiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaiʻi. “Coming together for projects like these is what ʻImiloa is all about.”
"I am extremely grateful to have been part of this educational experience," said Kauʻi Kaina, kumu and A Hua He Inoa cohort participant. "It is indeed a rare learning opportunity and so relevant to apply these cultural values to further the well-being of the Hawaiian language beyond ordinary contexts – allowing the language to live throughout the universe."
The science team used three Maunakea Observatories to achieve this result: W. M. Keck Observatory; the international Gemini Observatory, a Program of NSF’s NOIRLab; and the University of Hawai‘i-owned United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT).
“We recognize there are different ways of knowing the universe,” said John O’Meara, chief scientist at Keck Observatory. “Pōniuāʻena is a wonderful example of interconnectedness between science and culture, with shared appreciation for how different knowledge systems enrich each other.”
The A Hua He Inoa collaboration has named world-renowned astronomical discoveries, including the asteroids ‘Oumuamua, Kamoʻoalewa and Kaʻepaokaʻāwela, and the black hole Pōwehi. “It is so important that we continue on this path of merging science and discovery with our Hawaiian culture,” Ka’iu Kimura emphasized. “Programs like A Hua He Inoa ensure that we can continue to forge this path forward, together for years to come.”
Click to access VNR assets from the Maunakea Observatories, ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center and A Hua He Inoa participants:
About A Hua He Inoa
The A Hua He Inoa program is an initiative started in 2017 by a hui including ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center, Maunakea Observatories, Ka Haka ʻUla O Keʻelikōlani, and community members created to give Hawaiian names to major astronomical discoveries made in Hawai‘i. The program was conceived to ensure Hawaiian traditional naming practices achieve recognition and prestige on a global stage. “This pilot program helps demonstrate how a diverse cross section of our community can come together to support Hawaiian culture by advancing Hawaiian language. We do so with great pride, for the world to see and hopefully learn from,” added Kimura. To learn more, visit: https://imiloahawaii.org/a-hua-he-inoa
About ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center
‘Imiloa Astronomy Center is an astronomy and culture education center located in Hilo, Hawai‘i, that advances the integration of science and indigenous culture. Their diverse exhibits, programs and events harness leading technologies, environmental resources and cultural practitioners to engage children, families and communities. ‘Imiloa is an integral part of the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, committed to serving as an educational resource and improving the quality of life of the people of Hawai‘i Island and state. Through partnerships with programs of the University, Hawai‘i-based observatories, local businesses and schools, ‘Imiloa creates opportunities that inspire interest in science through the Hawaiian lens, strengthen career awareness and workforce development, and contribute to the sustainability of Hawai‘i’s community.
About the Maunakea Observatories
The Maunakea Observatories are a collaboration of independent institutions with telescopes located on Maunakea on the Island of Hawai’i. Together, the Observatories make Maunakea the most scientifically productive site for astronomy world-wide. The Maunakea Observatories include: Caltech Submillimeter Observatory, Canada-France-Hawai’i Telescope, Gemini International Observatory, James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (EAO), NASA Infrared Telescope Facility, Subaru Telescope, Submillimeter Array, United Kingdom Infrared Telescope, University of Hawai’i Hilo Educational Telescope, University of Hawai’i 2.2 Meter Telescope, Very Long Baseline Array, W. M. Keck Observatory (Keck I and Keck II telescopes). To learn more, visit: www.maunakeaobservatories.org