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NASA is dropping “insensitive” nicknames for cosmic objects



NASA joins the ever-growing list of organizations and companies that are re-examining their naming system and removing names that are “insensitive” and “harmful” from their vocabulary. Aunt Jemima, The chicks, Lady A., Mrs. Butterworth’s, the Washington soccer team – and now, celestial objects – are all being renamed.

“Eskimo Nebula” and “Siamese Twins Galaxy” are just two examples of nicknames that are retiring, the space agency said this week. “Often times, seemingly innocuous nicknames can be harmful and undermine science,”

; it said.

Celestial objects such as planets, galaxies, and nebulae are often given unofficial nicknames, as their official names are usually made up of a series of letters and numbers. However, NASA said some of the names are offensive and they plan to withdraw them.

“As the scientific community works to identify and combat systemic discrimination and inequality in all areas of the field, it has become clear that certain cosmic nicknames are not only insensitive but can also be actively harmful,” the agency said. “NASA is exploring the use of unofficial terminology for cosmic objects as part of its commitment to diversity, justice, and inclusion.”

NASA said it would no longer refer to the planetary nebula NGC 2392, the glowing remnants of a sun-like star near the end of its life, as the “Eskimo Nebula”. It recognized the racist origins of the term.

Many aborigines consider Eskimo a derogatory term because non-native colonizers used it as “eaters of raw meat,” meaning barbarism. Dreyer’s ice cream in June dropped the name “Eskimo Pie” after almost 100 years.


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In addition, the agency will no longer refer to the spiral galaxies NGC 4567 and NGC 4568 as “Siamese twin galaxies”.

“Siamese Twins” is an archaic term used to refer to conjoined twins, originally inspired by brothers Chang and Eng Bunker, who were born in Siam, now Thailand. The twins appeared on “freak shows” for European and American audiences in the 19th century.

NASA said it will only use official International Astronomical Union terms to refer to objects that previously had “inappropriate” nicknames.

“Our goal is to ensure that all names are consistent with our values ​​of diversity and inclusion, and we will work proactively with the scientific community to ensure this. Science is for everyone, and every facet of our work must reflect that value. ” said Thomas Zurbuchen, deputy administrator of NASA’s Directorate for Science Missions.

The agency said it was working with experts on diversity, inclusion and justice to recommend other nicknames and terms for objects that are evolving.

“These nicknames and terms can have historical or cultural connotations that are objectionable or undesirable, and NASA is committed to addressing them,” said Stephen T. Shih, Associate Administrator, Diversity and Equal Opportunities. “Science depends on various contributions and benefits everyone. That means that we have to make them inclusive.”


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