Distant cosmic objects such as planets, galaxies, and nebulae are sometimes referred to by the scientific community with unofficial nicknames.
As the scientific community works to identify and address systemic discrimination and inequality in all aspects of the field, it has become clear that certain cosmic nicknames are not only insensitive, but can be actively harmful.
NASA is examining its use of unofficial terminology for cosmic objects as part of its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
As a first step, the agency has announced they will no longer refer to a planetary nebula officially titled ‘NGC 2392’ as the ‘Eskimo Nebula’ because the term is ‘colonial’, with a “racist history, imposed on the indigenous people of Arctic regions”.
Similarly, the nickname of ‘Siamese Twins Galaxy’ for a pair of spiral galaxies in the Virgo Galaxy Cluster will be retired from use.
Instead Nasa says it will only use “International Astronomical Union designations” to refer to cosmic objects where nicknames are inappropriate.
The agency says it won’t be banning the use of nicknames full stop – they’re a useful way to make the cosmos accessible.
But it is stressing that a thoughtless nickname can be “harmful and detract from the science”.
Nasa has also pledged to work with diversity and inclusion experts to provide recommendations on other aspects of their star-naming process.
Of course, some people accused NASA of bending to a ‘woke’ agenda.
But others said the decision had come from Nasa staff and was the right one.
Who votes we just call them what they are: big ol' balls of gas.