Kejimkujik: Asteroid named for Mi’kmaw ancestral site

Here’s Lake Kejimkujik, part of Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site, a sacred site of the indigenous Mi’kmaq. Now the IAU has given the name Kejimkujik to an asteroid. Image via David Chapman.

Asteroid Kejimkujik

This month (June 13, 2022), the International Astronomical Union added the name Kejimkujik to minor planet (asteroid) 497593. Discovered by Canadian astronomer Paul Wiegert in 2006, the asteroid is a small, irregular, rocky object in the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. It’s named for Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site in Nova Scotia, Canada. The indigenous Mi’kmaq consider Kejimkujik to be a sacred ancestral place. The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada declared Kejimkujik to be a Dark Sky Preserve in 2010.

The asteroid is small, about 1.2 miles (2 km) across. Currently appearing in front of the constellation Pisces, it is observable only in professional telescopes.

A rare refuge

The “nature and science” area of ​​Parks Canada says of Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site:

Kejimkujik is… a rare refuge for old growth forests and the species that depend upon them; at the core of the second largest biosphere reserve in Canada; the keeper of stories and memories of the Mi’kmaq who have traveled and lived in the area for thousands of years; a rock-girded seashore of world-renowned beauty.

What does the word Kejimkujik mean? Derived from the Mi’kmaw word Kejimkuji’jk, meaning little fairies, historically, Kejimkujik Lake was known as Fairy Lake; to this day one of its bays is still known as Fairy Bay. The notion of fairies could also be interpreted as little people, or gnomes, which assume various forms in Mi’kmaw culture. For example, Wiklatmu’j are small entities thought to be represented among the petroglyphs here at Kejimkujik.

How asteroids are named

When first discovered, asteroids are provisional designations. Eventually, the International Astronomical Union’s Small Bodies Names Committee will approve a final proper name, as is now the case with asteroid Kejimkujik. First choice on the name goes to the astronomer who first provides enough observations to calculate an asteroid’s orbit with precision. But there’s also a nomination process. Cathy LeBlanc (Acadia First Nation) – and David Chapman, Roy Bishop, James Hesser and Peter Jedicke (all of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada) – and discoverer Paul Wiegert (University of Western Ontario) placed the name Kejimkujik in nomination.

Bottom line: This month (June 13, 2022), the International Astronomical Union added the name Kejimkujik to minor planet (asteroid) 497593. It’s named for a sacred site of the indigenous Mi’kmaq in modern-day Nova Scotia.

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