NASA has announced in the last few days that it will revise its catalog of nicknames given to galaxies and other stellar objects with a view to redacting all terms that could have a racist or colonial connotation.
Over the decades, astronomers have become accustomed to giving nicknames to various celestial objects – usually referred to by codes of numbers and letters incomprehensible to the general public – in order to make them more presentable. This is how, for example, the galaxy UGC 10214 was nicknamed the Tadpole galaxy or the Barnard 33 object is better known as the Horsehead nebula, due to their respective particular shape.
Other nicknames adopted by NASA are however much less harmless and will be abandoned by scientists, announced the American agency giving as an example the nebula NGC 2392, nicknamed the Eskimo nebula, a term imposed to designate the peoples indigenous peoples of the Arctic charged with a racist and colonialist history.
The Edmonton Eskimos, in the Canadian Football League (CFL), dropped their name last month, giving in to pressure from the public and sponsors.
The galaxies NGC 4567 and NGC 4568, known by the nickname of the Siamese twin galaxies, will suffer the same fate as the Eskimo nebula, NASA said, speaking of a “first step” to clean up in its catalog of nicknames.
All stellar objects with inappropriate nicknames will now only be referred to by their official name, the US space agency said.
“Our goal is for all names to align with our values of diversity and inclusion, and we will actively work with the scientific community to ensure this. Science is for everyone and every facet of our work must reflect this, ”NASA Scientific Director Thomas Zurbuchen said in a statement.
Experts on issues of diversity and inclusion will give NASA a helping hand to prune its catalog of stellar object nicknames, it was said.