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First black hole to be photographed now has a name

Posted at 5:59 AM, Apr 12, 2019

That black hole you've seen everywhere now has a name.

It's been christened Powehi — a Hawaiian phrase referring to an "embellished dark source of unending creation."

The groundbreaking, first-ever photograph of a black hole was published around the world when it was unveiled on Wednesday, captivating viewers and providing the only direct visual evidence that these regions of spacetime exist.

The responsibility of finding it a name fell to Larry Kimura, a Hawaiian language professor at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, who was approached by astronomers involved with the project. Two of the eight telescopes used to capture the photograph are located in Hawaii.

Powehi was chosen for its roots in the Kumulipo, an 18th-century Hawaiian chant that describes a creation story.

It puts together two terms from the chant: Po, meaning profound dark source of unending creation, and wehi (or wehiwehi) which is one of the several ways that po is described in the chant.

"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," Kimura said in a statement.

"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 po," he added. "I hope we are able to continue naming future black holes from Hawaii astronomy according to the Kumulipo."

Powehi was captured by the Event Horizon Telescope, a project that connected eight telescopes around the world.

The supermassive black hole and its shadow, at the center of a galaxy known as M87, were photographed back in April 2017, but the results were only revealed on Wednesday.

"We have seen what we thought was unseeable," said Sheperd Doeleman, director of the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration, unveiling the historic snap. "We have seen and taken a picture of a black hole."

More than 200 researchers were involved in the project, and they had worked for more than a decade to capture the image. The project is named after the event horizon, the proposed boundary around a black hole that represents the point of no return where no light or radiation can escape.

The telescope array collected 5,000 trillion bytes of data over two weeks, which was processed through supercomputers so that the scientists could retrieve the images.

"Powehi, as a name, is so perfect, because it provides real truths about the image of a black hole that we see," Jessica Dempsey of the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope, said in a video released by the University of Hawaii about the naming.