Nawahi Crater on Mercury

Mercury CratersA crater on the surface of the planet Mercury has been officially named in honor of a historic Hawaiian painter. Nawahi Crater, located in Mercury’s Calloris Basin, gets its name from native Hawaiian artist Joseph Kaho’oluhi Nawahiokalaniopu’u. It’s one of fifteen names announced last week by NASA’s MESSENGER mission, which marks the first visit to Mercury since Mariner 10 in 1974.

Joseph Nawahi lived from 1842 to 1896, and is known as the first native Hawaiian painter to master the Western style.  In addition to his paintings (of which only six are known to exist today), he was a newspaper publisher, lawyer, and legislator. A Hawaiian language immersion school in Kea’au is also named in his honor.

The naming of astronomical bodies and features is no simple task. Anyone can submit a name to the International Astronomical Union, but the scientific need must be established and each object in the solar system has it own naming convention. For Mercury specifically, names for craters must be of people who contributed to the art or humanities, have been dead for at least three years, and their work has to have been deemed significant for at least fifty years.

“So for example, John Lennon fits the first two categories but his work has not been significant 50 years, yet,” explained Jeffrey Gillis-Davis of the Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology at UH. “So there won’t be a John Lennon crater for about another 10 years.”

Gillis-Davis is part of the Messenger team, and was behind the naming of Nawahi Crater.

“We try to keep the number of names from each region in the world representative,” Gillis-Davis said. “I saw that there were no Hawaiian artists and very few from Oceania (from the Pacific Rim), so doing a little research on people from Hawaii with the help of someone at the Hawaii Academy of Arts we came up with the obvious choice of Joseph of Nawahi.”

Scientists and observatories in Hawaii contribute much to astronomy, so it’s fitting that there be more Hawaiian names in space.

Gillis-Davis points out that a recently discovered dwarf planet was named Haumea, after the Hawaiian goddess of childbirth and fertility, to reflect the place where the satellites were discovered. Haumea also has two moons: Hi’iaka and Namaka, named for Haumea’s two daughters.

Other craters near Nawahi Crater include Poe (for Edgar Allen Poe) and Dali (for Salvador Dali). Here’s a close-up look at Nawahi Crater:

Nawahi Crater

Mahalo to Jeffrey Gillis-Davis for the image and great background on this astronomical honor.

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