NASA to change ‘harmful’ and discriminatory planet and galaxy nicknames | Science


NASA has signaled that it is joining the social justice movement by changing the unofficial and potentially contentious names used by the scientific community for distant cosmic objects such as planets, galaxies and nebulae.In a statement last week, the space agency said that as the “community works to identify and address discrimination and systemic inequalities in all aspects of the field, it has become clear that some cosmic nicknames are not only insensitive, but can be actively harmful ”.

NASA added that it was “examining its use of unofficial terminology for cosmic objects as part of its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.”

One of the steps NASA would take immediately would be to drop references to the planetary nebula NGC 2392 known as the “Eskimo Nebula,” a dying Sun-like star that blows over its outer layers. “Eskimo,” the agency said, “is widely regarded as a colonial term with a racist history, imposed on the indigenous peoples of the Arctic regions. ”

It will also cease to refer to a pair of spiral galaxies, NGC 4567 and NGC 4568, in the Virgo galaxy cluster known as the “Siamese Twins Galaxy”, as part of its effort to align cosmic objects with the thought and current conventions of social justice. .

“These nicknames and terms may have historical or cultural connotations that are objectionable or unwelcoming, and NASA is strongly committed to responding to them,” said Stephen Shih, associate administrator for diversity and equal opportunity at NASA. “Science depends on diverse contributions and benefits everyone, so we need to make it inclusive.”

Going forward, NASA said it would only use official designations from the International Astronomical Union in cases where the nicknames are inappropriate. Cosmic objects, like Barnard 33, nicknamed “the horse’s head nebula”, would retain their name.

The “Siamese twin galaxy” was named by Frederick Willem Herschel, the British astronomer and composer of German origin. Herschel also identified and named the “Eskimo Nebula” which he described in January 1787 as “a 9th magnitude star with a fairly bright middle, a nebulosity also scattered all around. A very remarkable phenomenon. ”

Herschel then spent nine years surveying the sky for double stars, publishing catalogs of nebulae in 1802 (2,500 objects) and 1820 (5,000 objects). Among Herschel’s accomplishments was the discovery of a new object in the constellation Gemini.

It has been confirmed to be a new planet, named Uranus, and considered the first planet to be discovered since ancient times. He also identified the moons of the planet, Titania and Oberon, as well as Enceladus and Mimas, the two moons of Saturn.

But its nomenclature will now cease to be officially used by the American agency, said Thomas the associate administrator of the management of the scientific mission of NASA in Washington.

“Our goal is for all names to be aligned with our values ​​of diversity and inclusion, and we will be working proactively with the scientific community to contribute to this. Science is for everyone, and every facet of our work must reflect this value, ”said Zurbuchen.


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