First dwarf planet in solar system named after Chinese god

This image shows an artist’s rendering of Gonggong, the first and only dwarf planet in the solar system that has a Chinese name. - Alex H. Parker/International Astronomical Union

BEIJING (Xinhua): The largest unnamed planet in the solar system has recently been named after the Chinese water god Gonggong by the International Astronomical Union (IAU).

This is the first and only dwarf planet in the solar system that has a Chinese name, according to the National Astronomical Observatories under the Chinese Academy of Sciences Tuesday (March 3).

Gou Lijun, a researcher at the observatory, said the naming is an important event that will help Chinese astronomy gain global attention, as most dwarf planets are named after Greek and Roman mythical figures.

"It will not only help promote a more international understanding of Chinese culture, including ancient myths, but also attract more Chinese astronomers and stargazers to pay attention to the 'Gonggong' planet," said Gou.

The planet, coded 2007OR10, was discovered in 2007 by three astronomers on the far edge of the solar system, outside Neptune's orbit. It is one of the reddest celestial bodies found in the Kuiper Belt in the solar system, and it rotates around the sun in an elliptical orbit.

Previous studies have predicted the presence of large amounts of water ice and methane on its surface.

The official naming was produced through an online vote in 2019 launched by one of its discoverers.

The three candidates were the Chinese water god Gonggong, the Germanic Winter Goddess Holle and the God Vili from Norse mythology. They are all mythological characters related to water, ice, snow and the colour red.

In the end, the Chinese water god, with red hair, the head of a human and the body of a snake, won the competition, and its name was submitted to the IAU.

In late February, the Minor Planet Center of the IAU accepted the name and updated its catalog.

Gonggong is the fifth-largest dwarf planet detected in the solar system so far. Can we see Gonggong at night? The answer is no because it is too far away from Earth.

The closest distance between Gonggong and the sun is 33 astronomical units (AU), and the farthest is 101 AU. One AU is the distance from the sun to Earth, almost 150 million km.

Scientists estimated the planet has a diameter of 1,230km, 35 per cent of the moon's diameter, and its weight is only 2.4 per cent that of the moon. It rotates very slowly, with a period of 44.81 hours.

In Chinese mythology, however, Gonggong was a short-tempered god, who always created chaos, leading to floods and landslides. The satellite of the planet was also named after Xiangliu, a Chinese minister of Gonggong.

Gou said with further exploration of the universe, more planets are expected to have Chinese names in the future. - Xinhua

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