I first heard about the newly-discovered celestial body in the Solar System from the local paper (Headline: “A cold day in space: Frozen body discovered”, which doesn’t quite give the right impression) but I missed the part which gave its name, Quaoar (KWAH-o-ar). It was the Boing Boing citation that brought the name to my attention. “Quaoar?” I thought, as no doubt many others have. “Where did that name come from?”
This being the Internet, I checked Google and found only one reference to “Quaoar” that wasn’t talking about the mini-planet: a listing of gods, which states:
- Their only god who “came down from heaven; and, after reducing chaos to order, [put] the world on the back of seven giants. He then created the lower animals,” and then mankind. Los Angeles County Indians, California
(At least, that’s what Google’s cache said. The page itself was unavailable at the time due to Angelfire’s bandwidth restrictions.)
This is backed up by several of the items listed at Google News, such as the UPI news update, which describes it as “an Indian word for the creative force”. The best I’ve seen so far comes from the Caltech press release itself, which states:
The object has been named “Quaoar” (pronounced KWAH-o-ar) after the creation force of the Tongva tribe who were the original inhabitants of the Los Angeles basin, where the Caltech campus is located.
That seems reasonable. After all, most of the Roman gods have already been used (as have various mythological heroes and famous sprites). At about 1200 km (or about 750 miles) in diameter, Quaoar is the largest object found in the Solar System since Pluto in 1930. It’s “larger than all of the objects in the asteroid belt combined,” but smaller than Pluto, making it unlikely to be considered a planet. Scientists expect it to be just one of many objects lurking out there in the Kuiper belt. Interestingly, its orbit is much more circular than Pluto’s, which suggests that Pluto is a weird case (probably caused by some interaction with Neptune long ago).
A lot of SF has involved new planets (which Quoar is not, but never mind), often as an off-hand reference. “Planet X” is one popular choice for a mysterious, tenth planet because “X” is the Roman numeral for 10 and it connotes mystery. A few stories have talked about “Persephone”, and one (I can’t remember which) referenced four planets in the Kuiper belt named for the four parts of Dante’s ninth circle of Hell: Caïna, Antenora, Ptolomea, and Judecca.
The only question now is, How long before some fanfic introduces Sailor Quaoar? #