NASA to Change 'Actively Harmful' Nicknames

'Science is for everyone,' agency says in dropping 'Eskimo Nebula'
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 9, 2020 8:15 AM CDT
NASA Reconsiders 'Insensitive' Nicknames
The "Horsehead Nebula" is keeping its name.   (Getty/Allen Janusz)

The "Siamese Twins Galaxy" isn't going anywhere, but that nickname is. NASA said that as it surveyed its field for systemic inequality, including the terms it uses, it realized "that certain cosmic nicknames are not only insensitive, but can be actively harmful." So from now on, the Guardian reports, the pair of spiral galaxies in the Virgo Galaxy Cluster will be referred to only by the official name, NGC 4567 and NGC 4568. The same goes for another moniker evidently once thought to be clever—"Eskimo Nebula," or planetary nebula NGC 2392. An agency statement said that nickname includes a word "widely viewed as a colonial term with a racist history, imposed on the indigenous people of Arctic regions." It describes the two moves as an "initial step."

Other nicknames will be jettisoned as well, per CBS, and NASA says that going forward, International Astronomical Union designations will be used "in cases where nicknames are inappropriate." "Often seemingly innocuous nicknames can be harmful and detract from the science," NASA said. The two examples the agency cited were named by Frederick William Herschel, the British astronomer and composer who also discovered Uranus. His work lives on but not necessarily his terminology, a NASA official said. "Our goal is that all names are aligned with our values of diversity and inclusion," he said, adding, "Science is for everyone, and every facet of our work needs to reflect that value." ("Eskimo" is disappearing from the freezer case, as well.)

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