Planet Kererū, of Karaka star system: celestial bodies get reo Māori makeover

10:28 am on 19 December 2019

The distant gas planet formerly known as HD 137388b had little going for it, at least in name.

Kereru in flight.

Kererū. Photo: Tony Stoddard / Kereru Discovery

After a Lower Hutt teacher likened the orange star to bright berry of the karaka, and the planet to the plucky kererū, the celestial bodies are getting a reo Māori makeover.

The two names were selected as the winners for New Zealand as part of the International Astronomy Union's NameExoWorlds competition.

Karaka berries.

Karaka berries Photo: Auckland Council

The initiative offers representatives from more than 100 countries the opportunity to rename dozens of exoplanets, or planets outside of Earth's solar system.

The local campaign was run by the Royal Astronomical Society and Auckland University's Te Pūnaha Ātea - Auckland Space Institute.

Nick Rattenbury, a senior lecturer at Auckland University, said the karaka fruit was chosen for the orange tinge it shared with the sun.

"There was a nice resonance there between the colour of the star being this orangey-type star, and the fruit of the karaka tree being orange.

"And of course being particularly attracted to the karaka fruit, [kererū] is often found nearby, so I think that was a nice rationale; that the would be in orbit ... being close to this orange fleshy fruit."

Dr Rattenbury said it was important to acknowledge Māori already had plenty of names for the stars in the sky, however.

"This is an opportunity to highlight how cultures - not just what we associate with typical Western cultures - can provide beautiful names for what we see in our night sky."

Hugh Williams, a teacher from Lower Hutt, came up with both names.

He was declared a joint-winner with Jamie Andersen from Nelson, who also submitted karaka.

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