Friday, April 10, 2009

New Asteroids Honor Luiseño People Native to Palomar

Earlier this week I was honored to play a small role in a ceremony here at Palomar Observatory's Outreach Center as three asteroids were named to honor the Luiseño People who are native to Palomar and the surrounding area.

The asteroids, were discovered by my friend and 200-inch telescope operator Jean Mueller. Jean found the asteroids years ago while operating the Samuel Oschin Telescoope as part of the Second Palomar Observatory Sky Survey.

During the course of the sky survey, she scanned most of the plates under high magnification. She looked closely at the images as they were developed searching for comets, supernovae (exploding stars) and fast moving asteroids. In the course of her work, Mueller discovered 15 comets, 107 supernovae and 14 asteroids!

The rules for naming comets and supernovae don't allow the discoverer to have any say in their names, but for asteroids the discoverer has the honor to bestow names. Asteroids, also called minor planets, are first "numbered" after accurate orbits have been determined. Many of the asteroids that she discovered are Apollo-type asteroids. Apollo asteroids have orbits that cross the orbit of Earth and have the potential to someday impact Earth. There are rules to naming Apollo asteroids that are governed by the 15-person Committee for Small-Body Nomenclature of the International Astronomical Union. It was only recently that cultures such as the Luiseño could be honored in this way.

The new asteroid names honor figures from the Luiseño creation stories. The names selected were Tukmit (Father Sky), Tomaiyowit (Earth Mother), and Kwiila (black oak).

At Tuesday's ceremony we heard from Jean who said "It has been a dream that I could follow through with the naming of these asteroids for the Luiseño people and to honor their culture and history. I started thinking about this probably 15-20 years ago and took my first steps toward this back in 2003."

That is Jean above. Below is Chris Devers, Chairman of the Pauma Band of Luiseño Indians. (holding plaque at left) some of the Pauma kids, myself & Jean (holding a plaque at right).

Chairman Devers had this to say during the ceremony, “On behalf of the Pauma Band of Luiseño Indians, I would like to thank Palomar Observatory and Miss Mueller. And we appreciate her dedication to her field and her recognition of our people, our history and our culture." He spoke about the meaning of the names from their creations stories and the "great connection between the stars and the Tribe".

After the presentation of the asteroid plaques the kids gave a wonderful thank you blessing.

The students also brought along some of their artwork depicting the asteroids and/or their interpretation of the asteroids' names. Scroll on down to have a look at their efforts. Some of it is quite good, far exceeding my feeble skills.

This last one looks scary to me!

Here are photos of the asteroids, along with more information on their names and their discovery information.

Asteroid (12711) Tukmit was discovered January 19, 1991. Tukmit is Father Sky in the Luiseño creation story. He was made from nothingness and together with Tomaiyowit bore the First People. The First People became all the people, animals, plants, and inanimate objects of the earth, the basis of Luiseño existence. (Orbit Diagram)

Asteroid (11500) Tomaiyowit was discovered October 28,1989. Tomaiyowit is Earth Mother in the Luiseño creation story. She, together with Tukmit gave birth to the First People, which are all things and features of the earth forming the basis of Luiseño existence. (Orbit Diagram)

Asteroid (9162) Kwiila was discovered July 29, 1987. Kwiila is one of the First People in the Luiseño creation story. Kwiila means black oak, which is indigenous to Palomar Mountain where the Luiseño traditionally gathered acorns during the summer months. (Orbit Diagram)

My next podcast for the 365 Days of Astronomy will include some of the sounds from the naming ceremony. But until then look for the song on this page.

The story got some nice coverage from the San Diego Union Tribune, and was even on the front page of the North County Times the Valley Roadrunner newspapers. The story has also been picked up by and

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