Haumea, Hi’iaka and Namaka

Let’s welcome the fifth member to the club of dwarf planet – Haumea, joining Pluto, Ceres, Eris and Makemake.

Haumea was formerly known as 2003 EL61. It was initially discovered by Mike Brown at Caltech in Pasadena on December 28, 2004. However, only in mid-2005 the discovery was announced, not by Mike Brown, but by a Spanish team.

Haumea is the name of the goddess of childbirth and fertility in Hawaiian mythology. Her many children sprang from different parts of her body. She takes many different forms and has experienced many different rebirths. As the goddess of the earth, she represents the element of stone.

Haumea has two moons, and now they too have been named. The first and largest moon is to be called Hi’iaka, after the Hawaiian goddess who is said to have been born from the mouth of Haumea and the patron goddess of the island of Hawaii. The second moon of Haumea is named Namaka, a water spirit who is said to have been born from Haumea’s body.

The name Haumea suits the characteristic of this new dwarf planet. First, Haumea represents the element of stone and observations hint that this dwarf planet is almost entirely composed of rock (which is quite unusual).

Second, Haumea’s children sprang from different parts of her body and this dwarf planet may also has a similar history. The two moons of dwarf planet Haumea are thought to have been created by parts of Haumea’s icy surface that were blasted off during impacts in the past.

Dwarf Planet Haunea

Haunea looks and spins approximately like this. Credit: Mike Brown.

Haumea is “big” – its diameter is about the same as Pluto. But it has an odd shape, like a squashed American football. It is believed that its oblong shape is due to its rapid four-hour rotation. Objects that rotate fast tend to get equatorial bulges; for example Jupiter, which rotates once in 10 hours, gives it a squashed ball “look”. Because Haumea is very, very small compared to Jupiter, it has much, much weaker gravity, and this gives it a much, much “squasher” (if there is such word) look; so squashed that it look like a cigar rather than a ball.

Haumea sits among the trans-Neptunian objects, a vast ring of distant cold and rocky bodies in the outer Solar System. At this moment it is roughly 50 AU from the Sun, but at its closest the elliptical orbit of Haumea brings it 35 AU from our star.


~ by thChieh on September 18, 2008.

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