Friday, July 25, 2008

Pluto's New Buddy

The picture to our right is Makemake, the creation god of Easter Island. Here is what has to say:
Top God of the Rapanui people of Easter Island. The all-powerful creator and benefactor, he was the only God they cared about, apart from a little AKU-AKU ancestor worship. The MOAI statues littering the island may once have been dedicated to him, but nothing is certain as it all went horribly wrong and now no-one remembers a thing. There was a terrible civil war in which the MOAI were cast down, and a new cult sprang up which introduced TANGATA-MANU, the Bird-Man. MAKE-MAKE must have been pretty cross, as the fortunes of the Rapanui subsequently went from bad to worse.

The picture to our left is also Makemake. Makemake is the third plutiod to be named. A plutoid is a dwarf planet beyond Neptune. There are four dwarf planets named: Ceres (in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter), Pluto (still ticked off about being demoted from planet status), Eris (the dwarf planet that caused all of the hullabaloo and got Pluto demoted (aptly named after the goddess of discord)), and now Makemake.
This dwarf planet was originally named 2005 FY9 (or, by his discoverer, Easter Bunny since it was found near Easter). When the IAU, International Astronomical Union, decided to give it a name, Mike Brown (the aforementioned discoverer) was given the chance to name it. He took his task seriously and decided to keep in the tradition of naming space objects after mythological figures. Now we are more familiar with the Roman named objects, but there are several other mythologies used in space as well, just for smaller stuff. In fact, the moons or Uranus are mostly named after Shakespeare characters, not mythology at all.
Mike Brown said, "Makemake's surface is covered with large amounts of almost pure methane ice, which is scientifically fascinating, but really not easily relatable to terrestrial mythology. Suddenly, it dawned on me: the island of Rapa Nui [Easter Island]. Why hadn't I thought of this before? I wasn't familiar with the mythology of the island so I had to look it up, and I found Makemake, the chief god, the creator of humanity, and the god of fertility. I am partial to fertility gods. Eris, Makemake, and 2003 EL61 were all discovered as my wife was 3-6 months pregnant with our daughter. I have the distinct memory of feeling this fertile abundance pouring out of the entire universe. Makemake was part of that."
This is not the first space object that Mike Brown has named and he really wanted not only to name it after a mythological figure but to also make it fit. He considered naming it something with the oracle at Delphi. His rationale was that there is a theory that the trance like state of the oracles may have come from some gas seeping out of the rocks nearby. He said, "this theme was just dumb."

Since it was already called Easter Bunny, he thought about Eostre, the goddess for whom Easter has its name (possibly). Unfortunately, there is already an asteroid with that name.
Seizing on the bunny aspect of Easter Bunny, he looked at Native American mythology. There are lots of rabbit gods in Native American mythology. Unfortunately they are mostly named Hare or Big Rabbit. He said that he considered an Algonquin rabbit trickster god named Manabozho, but, "I must admit, perhaps superficially, that the 'Bozo' part at the end didn’t appeal to me."

Finally he came up with Makemake and there we go. IF you want to read Mike Brown's full account of naming his planets, go to: If you want to read the whole Astronomy article, go here:
I'm taking a break from the blog for about two weeks while I go on vacation (beach and Disney). If I can, I'll post some more. While I'm gone, hit the poll about who you think would win in an all out divine grudge match between Zeus, Thor, Ra, or Lugh. All are their heavy hitters in their mythology. If I don't get stuck on "It's a Small World," I'll see you in a fortnight!

No comments: