NASA announces an end to “insensitive” nicknames for celestial objects

Shane McGlaun - Aug 9, 2020, 12:02 pm CDT
NASA announces an end to “insensitive” nicknames for celestial objects

Typically when celestial objects are named, it’s a long stream of letters and numbers that make no sense and don’t exactly roll off the tongue. That means many of the celestial objects end up with nicknames that are easier to say and remember. However, NASA has now said that some of the nicknames given to cosmic objects are “insensitive” and will be retired.

Among the names that will be retired include “Eskimo Nebula” and the “Siamese Twins Galaxy.” NASA said, “often seemingly innocuous nicknames can be harmful and detract from the science.” The agency says that the scientific community is working to “identify and address systemic discrimination and inequality,” noting that some cosmic nicknames are not only insensitive but can be actively harmful.

NASA says that planetary nebula NGC 2392, which is the remnants of a sun-like star near the end of its life, will no longer be referred to as the “Eskimo Nebula.” The space agency did acknowledge that the term had racist origins. “Eskimo” is considered a derogatory term by many indigenous people. The term was used by colonizers to mean “eater of raw meat” which was meant to denote barbarism.

Spiral galaxies NGC 4567 and NGC 4568, referred to as “Siamese Twins Galaxy,” will also lose that name. “Siamese twins” is described as an old expression that used to refer to conjoined twins. The phrase originated from brothers Chang and Eng Bunker, who were conjoined, and were born in Siam, now known as Thailand.

NASA stated that it would only use the official International Astronomical Union designations to refer to the objects in the future. It’s unclear if nicknames can be assigned to these celestial objects if they aren’t deemed inappropriate or racist.

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