NASA is taking steps to eliminate its use of offensive, inappropriate, or otherwise problematic nicknames given to various cosmic regions and objects. The decision comes amid growing calls for more diversity and inclusion, a process that involves tearing down old problematic structures that may be insensitive at best or, more often than not, actively harmful. The change is kicking off with one nickname in particular.
NASA revealed its plan on Wednesday, stating that it will start this process with the planetary nebula NGC 2392, which has been unofficially referred to by the nickname ‘Eskimo Nebula.’ The majority of official NASA documents no longer use this term, according to the space agency, which says that it has also decided to do away with the nickname ‘Siamese Twins Galaxy.’
What will replace these nicknames? Nothing, it seems. NASA says that in instances where a cosmic object has been nicknamed something deemed inappropriate, it will instead revert to using only the International Astronomical Union’s official designation for that object or region. Nicknames aren’t going away entirely, however.
A nickname is used to refer to celestial objects and regions that may be otherwise difficult for someone to remember. A simple nickname can be readily recalled, but something like ‘NGC 4567’ is harder to remember. In cases where the nicknames are harmless, such as the ‘Horsehead Nebula,’ the use of these casual monikers will remain.
Talking about this is NASA’s Associate Administrator for Diversity and Equal Opportunity Stephen T. Shih, who said:
These nicknames and terms may have historical or cultural connotations that are objectionable or unwelcoming, and NASA is strongly committed to addressing them. Science depends on diverse contributions and benefits everyone, so this means we must make it inclusive.