The World's Most Famous Black Hole Gets a Name

CC BY 2.0. Event Horizon Telescope

To cap off a week of black hole fever, the cosmic object has now been named by a language professor in Hawaii.

This week was one for the history books: The first-ever image of a black hole was released, a seemingly impossible feat that was achieved thanks to a massive undertaking of scientists across the globe who have been working on the project for years. The image has captured the imagination and admiration of people everywhere; a cosmic object larger than our solar system has become the world's little darling.

And now it has a name: Pōwehi.

Astronomers worked with University of Hawaii at Hilo (UH) Hawaiian language professor and cultural practitioner Larry Kimura for the name, according to a statement from UH. The Hawaiian connection came about because two of the eight telescopes used to capture the image are located in Hawaii.

The new moniker comes from the Kumulipo, the sacred creation chant explaining the origin of the Hawaiian universe. Pō, means the "profound dark source of unending creation," while "wehi," means honored with embellishments, and is one of many descriptions of pō in the chant. So, an embellished profound dark source of unending creation.

“As soon as he said it, I nearly fell off my chair,” Jessica Dempsey, deputy director of the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope on Mauna Kea, told the Honolulu Star Advertiser. “I had just spent 10 minutes explaining what this object was in science language. And in just this one word, he describes that,” she said.

The name is a big word; it's strong, poetic, and vastly profound in its meaning. It's everything that a name for the fist black hole seen by us mere humans should be.

“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."