The picture was clear, but the name of the black hole was a little fuzzy

The picture was clear, but the name of the black hole was a little fuzzy

This image released on Wednesday, April 10, 2019 by Event Horizon Telescope shows a black hole. Scientists have revealed the very first image of a black hole after collecting data collected by a network of radio telescopes around the world. (Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration / Observatories Maunakea via AP)

WASHINGTON – The newly designed supermassive black hole is a nameless beast, at least not official. And what happens next could be confusing on the cosmic level.

The team of astronomers who created the black hole image called M87 (asterisk). (The asterisk is silent.) A language teacher gave him the name of a Hawaiian chant – Powehi – meaning "unfathomable dark creation". And the international group responsible for giving astronomical names? He has never named a black hole.

The black hole in question is about 53 million light-years away in the center of a galaxy called Messier 87 or M87. On Wednesday, scientists revealed a photo they had taken using eight radio telescopes, the first time the man saw any of the dense celestial objects that were aspiring all around him. even the light.

The International Astronomical Union usually deals with names, but only elements of our solar system and the stars that are there. It does not have a committee set up to manipulate other objects, such as black holes, galaxies or nebulae.

The last time a similar situation occurred, poor Pluto had been demoted to a dwarf planet, causing a public outcry, said Williams College astronomer Jay Pasachoff, a member of the Star Designation Committee. .

Technically, our own galaxy – the Milky Way – has never been officially named by IAU, said Rick Fienberg, astronomer and press secretary of the American Astronomical Society. He said, "This is only a term that has gone through history."

"Virtually all objects in the sky have more than one designation," Fienberg said. "The constellations have their official names sanctioned by IAU, but in other cultures, they have other names."

The gift of a name

As for the black hole that we saw this week, Professor Larry Kimura of Hawaii University-Hawaiian Hawaii intensified his efforts even before the photo was unveiled.

Powehi (pronounced poh-veh-hee) is the Hawaiian name for the black hole, not her official name, explained Jessica Dempsey, who helped capture the image of the black hole as deputy director of the James Clerk Maxwell telescope on Mauna Kea, the highest mountain in Hawaii. Hawaii Governor David Ige proclaimed April 10 as Powehi Day, she said.

"It's not astronomers who name that," she said. "This comes from a cultural expert and a language expert. It's him who comes to the table and gives us a gift of that name. It is a gift of Hawaiian culture and history, not the other way around. "

Asked about Kimura's idea, Pasachoff, a member of the IAU Nominating Committee, said, "This is the first time I've heard about it."

Eric Mamajek, chairman of the AIU's working group on celebrity names, called it "wonderful and thoughtful name."

Pluto's situation

But Mamajek said his committee may not have been good at naming the black hole. It's just stars.

"It's exactly the situation of Pluto," Pasachoff said.

In 2006, IAU astronomers were discussing the designation of a large object in our solar system, finally called Eris. It was not a planet, so it was not the work of the planet committee. But some experts pointed out that he was bigger than Pluto, which caused confusion.

The conference decided to reclassify the planets, chased Pluto out of the ordinary planets club and forced it to join the new category of dwarf planets with Eris, Pasachoff said.

More names to come

The very day that the black hole photo was unveiled, the AIU asked the public to choose between three names for an object called 2007 OR10 astronomers. It is an ice-cold planetary that bypasses the sun but is 100 times closer to our star than the Earth.

The three names on offer are Gonggong, a Chinese god of water with red hair and snake tail; Holle, a European goddess of fertility in winter; and Vili, Nordic deity and brother of Odin.

The AIU is trying to introduce more languages ​​and cultures into the naming game, said Pasachoff and Fienberg. And soon, IAU will ask the public to help name 100 planets outside our solar system.

As astronomers looked further into the cosmos, Pasachoff said, "We will need more names." / JPV

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