Black hole captured in image given indigenous Hawaiian name of Pōwehi

The black hole, which became the first to ever be captured in an image, has been given a name.

Pōwehi was this week depicted in an image as a flaming orange, yellow and black ring; a black hole at the centre of galaxy Messier 87, roughly 54 million light-years from Earth.

Its name means "embellished dark source of unending creation" in the indigenous Hawaiian language and was picked by Larry Kimura, a Hawaiian language professor, who collaborated with the astronomers behind the image.

It comes from a chant, Kumulipo, describing the creation of Hawaiian universe.

"It is awesome that we, as Hawaiians today, are able to connect to an identity from long ago, as chanted in the 2,102 lines of the Kumulipo, and bring forward this precious inheritance for our lives today," said Kimura.

"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 that comes from pō, and I hope we are able to continue naming future black holes from Hawaii astronomy according to the Kumulipo."

Two telescopes on the island of Hawaii played a vital role in producing the image alongside six other radio telescopes around the world which essentially created a planet-sized observational dish.

The name isn't official yet, as it needs to be accepted by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), but other proposals of names from Kimura have been accepted.

Most black holes have generic, formulaic names related to the galaxy they are found in, so Kimura hopes Pōwehi gets picked up.

Some people, however, believe the black hole should be named after the late singer Chris Cornell, whose signature song was the Soundgarden classic 'Black Hole Sun'. More than 20,000 people have supported a petition calling for that name.

The image was a major milestone for astrophysics.

Black holes, phenomenally dense celestial entities, are difficult to observe despite their mass. As they do not allow light to escape, only the ring can be seen.

A black hole's event horizon is the point of no return beyond which anything else gets swallowed into oblivion.


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