Distant space objects, such as planets, galaxies, and nebulae, are sometimes given unofficial nicknames from the scientific community. However, scientists are working to identify and address systemic discrimination and inequality in all aspects of this area. As a result, it turned out that some nicknames of space objects are not only insensitive but can also be traumatic. NASA is exploring the use of informal terminology for space objects as part of its commitment to diversity, equality, and the fight against discrimination.
In the first place, NASA will no longer refer to planetary nebula NGC 2392 – the glowing remnants of a sun-like star that blows off the outer layers at the end of its life – the Eskimo nebula.
Eskimo is widely regarded as a colonial term with a racist history, imposed on the indigenous peoples of the Arctic regions. Most of the official documents have moved away from using it.
NASA will also no longer use the term “Siamese Twin Galaxy” to refer to NGC 4567 and NGC 4568, a pair of spiral galaxies found in the Virgo cluster of galaxies. In the future, the agency will only use the official designations of the International Astronomical Union in cases where nicknames are inappropriate.
I support our constant reappraisal of the names we call astronomical objects. Our goal is for all names to align with our values of diversity and inclusion, and we will actively work with the scientific community to help with this. Science is accessible to everyone, and every aspect of our work must reflect this value.
Thomas Zurbuchen, Assistant Administrator, NASA Science Mission Directorate at Washington Headquarters
Pseudonyms are often more accessible and understandable to the public than official names for space objects. For example, the Barnard Nebula 33, whose nickname for the Horsehead Nebula resembles the appearance of a horse’s head. But often seemingly harmless nicknames can be harmful and distract from science.
The agency will work with experts on diversity, inclusiveness, and social justice in the astronomical and physical sciences to provide advice and guidance for other monikers and terms.
These nicknames and terms can have historical or cultural connotations that are irrelevant or undesirable, and NASA is committed to addressing this issue.
Stephen T. Shea, Assistant Administrator for Diversity and Equal Opportunity at NASA Headquarters