A list of star names is available at the Cook Islands Library and Museum for those who wish to help emblazon this country’s history and heritage in the heavens.
The Exoworld competition allows Cook Islanders to give a Maori name to a star and orbiting planet that are currently known only by the moniker HD 221287.
The library’s manager Jean Mason is looking forward to judges deciding the named of a Cook Islands star, and says the competition has come at an opportune time. Cook Islanders can suggest names at astrofizz.org.
As part of their community outreach programme, they are offering star names at the Library – lists they have been compiling for years.
The more prominent stars in southern skies already have Maori names.
The star that is Arcturus to western astronomers was, to Maori navigators, known is Tangata metua (a parent), also known as Tautoru (one of the mythical pillars that supports the earth), also known as Turu (prop; support)
Similarly, what westerners know as Aldebran has long been known to Maori as Aumea, or Matakura.
And of course, Pleiades is far better known in the south Pacific as Matariki.
Mason says anything that further puts Cook Islands on the galaxy map is good, and naming a star with a deep and meaningful Cook Islands Maori name will make it more special.
During their research over the past 10 years, they first tried asking elderly people – many of whom have now passed on – for information on the heavenly bodies.
“But it seemed this aspect of our culture had very nearly disappeared already. Unlike the New Zealand Maori who have retained much of their lore about the heavenly bodies and the seasons, we have not.”
She says more research needs to be done on this field in the Cook Islands.
Looking back at the past, Mason says: “People of my generation can think back to their youth when we used to fly kites (another traditional pastime now disappeared) and after hide and seek or other games, we would just lie back on the grass in the evenings and look for shooting stars or try to count the stars in the night sky.
“I guess we didn’t have as much as the children of today have things to distract them, such as cellphones.”
She says islanders are fortunate that stars can still be seen at night, compared to those who live in lit-up cities with high buildings, or on continents with air pollution.
The competition ends at the end of this month where the best three names will be selected and sent to the International Astronomical Union Centenary. The final choice will be made in December.