Dwarf planet at the outer reaches of the solar system named after Polish goddess of wilderness
Copernicus may have been Polish, as was the discoverer of the first planet outside the solar system, but until recently Polish names have been nowhere to be found in the skies with the best-known heavenly bodies given the names of Greek and Roman deities.
That has now changed, as one of the largest dwarf planets at the outer reaches of the Solar System has been given the name of Dziewanna, a goddess of wilderness known from the writings of the great Polish historian of the fifteenth century, Jan Długosz.
Dziewanna, which has hitherto gone by the rather less fanciful monicker of 2010 EK139, was found in 2010 by a group of astronomers from the Warsaw University under Professor Andrzej Udalski.
The team, including Scott Sheppard, Marcin Kubiak and Chad Trujillo, made the discovery thanks to the powerful telescope of the Las Campanas observatory in Chilean desert – the less inhabited southern hemisphere being generally more conducive to astronomical observations.
The discovery came as part of the Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE), one of the world’s biggest long-term sky surveys pursued by the Warsaw University in cooperation with Princeton and the Carnegie Institution.
Dziewanna is a trans-Neptunian dwarf planet, meaning its average orbit is further from the Sun than that of Neptune, the eighth and most distant planet.
Finds of such objects have been plentiful in recent years, leading to the controversial demotion of Pluto, previously considered the ninth planet, to the dwarf planet status.
Most such finds, however, concern tiny objects with a few miles in diameter.
Dziewanna, in contrast, is estimated to be fully 470 kilometres (290 miles) across, making its surface one-seventh of the Moon’s and one of the 40 largest known object in the Solar System.
Its rotation period, equivalent to what we on Earth would call a day, is estimated at 7.07 hours, plus minus 0.05 hour.
The dwarf planet orbits the Sun at a distance 32.6 to 108.3 times greater than the distance from the Earth to the Sun (astronomic unit or AU, roughly 150 million kilometers).
It completes the orbit once every 591 years and 4 months, making its “year” last 215,992 earthly days.
Despite its great distance from the Sun, Dziewanna has been show to reflect its light rather well, leading its discoverers to speculate that it is covered in ice.
Dziewanna was given its name by the discoverers, who enjoy this right in accordance with tradition.
Their choice was restricted by the convention that trans-Neptunian dwarf planets bear the names of mythological figures.
Professor Udalski told journalists that his team’s two previous choices (Perun and Weles, male deities from the Slavic pantheon) had already been taken for other, less prominent astronomical objects.
The name was accepted for scientific use by the Minor Planet Center run at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachussets under the auspices of the International Astronomical Union.