NASA Changes Unofficial Nicknames of Cosmic Objects

The aim is to promote more diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Fabienne Lang

You may have to reeducate yourself on NASA's cosmic object list as its names may soon change. 

Cosmic objects, such as planets, galaxies, and nebulae, all have official names, but NASA also typically gives them unofficial nicknames. To try and address the issues surrounding diversity, equity, and inclusion, the American space agency is looking to reexamine some of these nicknames so ensure they're not promoting discrimination and inequality. 


Insensitive and harmful names

What's in a name? If Shakespeare were present today he'd be aware that quite a lot of information lies behind a name, and NASA has clocked onto this fact. 

As per the space agency's statement, certain of its cosmic objects' nicknames are in fact insensitive and harmful, to the point that it will look into changing them. Even though they're unofficial, they're still important and regularly used in the scientific community. 

Jumping straight in, NASA has decided to no longer refer to NGC 2392 (a planetary nebula) by its nickname of Eskimo Nebula. The reason behind the change is that the term Eskimo is widely accepted as a colonial term with a history of racism. Indigenous people of Arctic regions were referred to as Eskimos by the colonialists and the term has stuck since then. Already, official documents have moved away from using the nickname. 

Moreover, NASA won't be using the term Siamese Twins Galaxy when referring to NGC 4567 and NGC 4568. In the statement, NASA stressed that it would only use the official, International Astronomical Union designations when nicknames are deemed inappropriate. 

"I support our ongoing reevaluation of the names by which we refer to astronomical objects," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at Headquarters, Washington.

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"Our goal is that all names are aligned with our values of diversity and inclusion, and we’ll proactively work with the scientific community to help ensure that. Science is for everyone, and every facet of our work needs to reflect that value."

"These nicknames and terms may have historical or culture connotations that are objectionable or unwelcoming, and NASA is strongly committed to addressing them," said Stephen T. Shih, Associate Administrator for Diversity and Equal Opportunity at NASA Headquarters.

"Science depends on diverse contributions, and benefits everyone, so this means we must make it inclusive.

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