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Say hi to Haumea - our fifth dwarf planet

'Bizarre' trans-Neptunian object honours Hawaiian goddess

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The International Astronomical Union (IAU) has decreed that the object formerly known as 2003 EL61 will henceforth be addressed as "Haumea", and joins Ceres, Eris, Makemake and Pluto in the solar system's league of dwarf planets.

The IAU describes trans-Neptunian Haumea as a fast-spinning "bizarre object with a shape resembling a plump cigar", with a diameter "approximately the same as that of the dwarf planet Pluto".

The name is taken from the goddess of childbirth and fertility in Hawaiian mythology, which the IAU considers particularly appropriate since "Haumea also represents the element of stone and observations of Haumea hint that, unusually, the dwarf planet is almost entirely composed of rock with a crust of pure ice".

To further back its choice, the IAU notes that Haumea is "joined in its orbit" by two satellites thought to have been created by debris knocked off its surface by historic impacts. The goddess Haumea's children "sprang from different parts of her body", according to Hawaiian lore.

The largest of the two kids has been christened "Hi'iaka" in honour of Hawaii's patron goddess, who was born from the mouth of Haumea. The second is "Namaka", a water spirit who emerged from Haumea's body.

Haumea is currently lying "roughly 50 times the Sun-Earth distance from the Sun". Its elliptical orbit's closest approach to the Sun is around 35 times the Sun-Earth distance. ®

Bootnote

We don't know about you lot, but these names are getting a bit esoteric, what with Makemake and now Haumea. We're therefore lobbying the IAU that the next dwarf body be dubbed "Dave" and its satellites "Chantelle" and "Chelsea".

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