Last week, scientists captured an image of a much-sought-after scientific phenomenon. Now the world’s first confirmed black hole has a name reflecting part of its heritage: Powehi.
University of Hawaii-Hilo Hawaiian language professor Larry Kimura named the cosmic object.
Powehi means “the adorned fathomless dark creation” or “embellished dark source of unending creation.” It comes from the Kumulipo, an 18th century Hawaiian creation chant. Po is “a profound dark source of unending creation.” Wehi, “honored with embellishments,” is one of the chant’s descriptions of po.
“To have the privilege of giving a Hawaiian name to the very first scientific confirmation of a black hole is very meaningful to me and my Hawaiian lineage,” Kimura says.
Christians realize that the Genesis account is the true story of creation. Still, many civilizations have provided other explanations of how the world and its inhabitants came into being. So-called “creation myths” usually include a higher power responsible for fashioning everything. The Bible says that is because “[God] has put eternity into man’s heart.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
Astronomers compiled data from eight radio telescopes around the world to capture an image of the black hole. Two of those telescopes are in Hawaii, so a Hawaiian name was a good fit.
“As soon as he said it, I nearly fell off my chair,” says Jessica Dempsey, of the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope on Mauna Kea.
Dempsey was among 200 scientists who worked to capture an image of the massive black hole in the M87 galaxy nearly 54 million light-years from Earth. She says Powehi is an excellent match for the scientific explanation astronomers gave Kimura when they asked him to name the hole. “We described what we had seen and that this black hole was illuminating and brightening the darkness around it, and that’s when he came up with the name.”
(This image released Wednesday, April 10, 2019, shows a black hole. Scientists revealed the image after assembling data gathered by a network of radio telescopes around the world. Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration/Maunakea Observatories via AP)