The myth of the Inuit goddess, Sedna, has been told for generations throughout the Arctic. According to this myth, Sedna was a beautiful, young Inuit bride, who drowned in the frigid Arctic Sea following a harsh betrayal by her new husband–who is not really a human being, but an evil, gigantic raven disguised as a man. This evil bird reveals the monster that he really is to Sedna after he has contrived to seclude her as a captive in his nest on a remote cliff. Sedna’s father attempts to rescue her from this evil avian creature, but the attempt fails, resulting in Sedna’s death. After her death, she undergoes a metamorphosis and becomes an immortal ocean goddess. This once beautiful mortal woman undergoes a sea-change to become the sinister goddess of the Inuit underworld, “Adlivun”, which she now rules as a darkly witchy immortal; a hideous, one-eyed giantess.
The Inuits are naturally familiar with darkness and bitterly cold temperatures. So, too, are remote objects dwelling in the outermost fringes of our Solar System.
The very remote dwarf planet Sedna was named for the Inuit goddess. This small, ice-world was discovered on November 13, 2003 by Drs. Michael Brown (Caltech), Chad Trujillo (Gemini Observatory), and David Rabinowitz (Yale University). The discovery was made on the Samuel Oschin Telescope at the Palomar Observatory located east of San Diego. In the discovery images, Sedna appears as only a pin-point of light. Astronomers now think that Sedna’s diameter is between 1,200 and 1,600 kilometers. It is also one of the reddest objects in the Solar System–almost as red as Mars. Dr. Trujillo and his colleagues suggest that Sedna’s dark red color is the result of a surface coating of hydrocarbon goo, or “tholin”, formed when simpler organic compounds undergo a metamorphosis resulting from long exposure to ultraviolet radiation. Its surface is homogeneous in color and spectrum. This is probably because Sedna is rarely hit by other bodies–unlike objects nearer the Sun. Such impacts would expose areas of bright, fresh ice. Sedna’s surface is thought to be composed of 24% tholins, 26% methanol, 33% methane, 10% nitrogen, and 7% amorphous carbon. When Sedna was first discovered, astronomers erroneously believed it to possess a weirdly long rotational period of 20 to 50 days. It was then speculated that Sedna’s long rotational period was caused by the gravitational influence of a large moon. However, a search for this moon by the venerable Hubble Space Telescope came up empty-handed, and later measurements suggested that Sedna actually has a much shorter rotation period of 10 hours. This is typical for an object of its size.
The remote and frigid body was first observed at a distance more than 90 times greater than that from the Earth to the Sun–about three times further out than the very remote dwarf planet Pluto–once considered the ninth major planet from the Sun. Dr. Brown explained on his website that “Our newly discovered object is the coldest most distant place known in the Solar System, so we feel it is appropriate to name it in honor of Sedna, the Inuit goddess of the sea, who is thought to live at the bottom of the frigid Arctic Ocean.” Dr. Brown further asked the International Astronomical Union’s (IAU) Minor Planet Center to name any future similar small worlds discovered in Sedna’s remote, dark and frigid orbital vicinity after entities in Arctic mythologies. The IAU’s Committee on Small Planet Nomenclature formally accepted the name Sedna in September 2004.
When Sedna was first spotted by Drs. Brown, Trujillo, and Rabinowitz, it was seen to travel by about 4.6 arcseconds over 3.1 hours relative to stars. This suggested to the astronomers that its distance is about 100 Astronomical Units (one Astronomical Unit, or AU, is the mean distance of the Earth to the Sun–150 million kilometers or 93 million miles). Subsequent observations conducted using the SMARTS Telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile as well as with the Tenegra IV Telescope and the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii showed that the tiny, remote world is skittering along in a distant, highly eccentric (out-of-round) orbit. Furthermore, the icy object was later spotted on older pre-discovery images that allowed for a more exact calculation of its elliptical orbit.