Native Village Youth and Education News

May 1, 2009 Issue 198
Volume 4

Asteroids named in Luiseno language
Condensed by Native Village

Palomar Mountain, California:  By giving three asteroids American Indian names, tribal  leaders and astronomers at Palomar Observatory hope to spark new interest in an ancient culture.

The three asteroids were discovered with a 200-inch telescope atop Palomar Mountain. They were named after figures in the Luiseno tribe's story of creation: Tukmit, Tomaiyowit and Kwiila.

"As we try to teach our culture to our kids, this is very significant to us," said Chris Devers from the Pauma Band of Mission Indians. The Luisenos are the original inhabitants of Palomar Mountain and of Pauma Valley, where their reservation is today. 

The Pauma believed that Tukmit, or Father Sky, was made from nothingness. Then Tukmit and Tomaiyowit, the Earth Mother, bore the first people.

Kwiila, or black oak, was one of the first people in their creation story, he said.

Photographs of the three asteroids with their names will go on display at the observatory.

Devers hopes the naming of the three asteroids will help people, including the tribe's children, become interested in learning about Luiseno culture and astronomy.

The Luiseno people were named after the Mission of San Luis Rey by the Spanish, the first Europeans who settled in the area. The name includes the Rincon, La Jolla, Pauma and Pechanga bands. They lived in the San Luis Rey River area for thousands of years before the Spanish arrived.

The three asteroids were discovered by the observatory's telescope operator, Jean Mueller. Mueller was interested in Luiseno culture and thought it would be appropriate to name the asteroids in that language. She approached Pauma's tribal leaders with the idea, and they agreed.

"I wanted to recognize their history in a tangible fashion, and naming the asteroids for them seemed like a fitting thing to do," Mueller said.

Asteroids are small celestial bodies that orbit the sun, much like planets. They help scientists learn how the planets were formed and what they are made of.



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