NASA drops racially charged nicknames of celestial bodies

News

Editor’s Note: As of Aug. 1, 2020, NASA no longer refers to nebula NGC 2392 as the “Eskimo Nebula,” as it can be considered an insensitive and offensive term. More information.

This stellar relic, first spied by William Herschel in 1787, is nicknamed the Eskimo Nebula (NGC 2392) because, when viewed through ground-based telescopes, it resembles a face surrounded by a fur parka. In this Hubble telescope image, the ‘parka’ is really a disk of material embellished with a ring of comet-shaped objects, with their tails streaming away from the central, dying star. Although the Eskimo’s ‘face’ resembles a ball of twine, it is, in reality, a bubble of material being blown into space by the central star’s intense ‘wind’ of high-speed material. This object is an example of a planetary nebula, so named because many of them have a round appearance resembling that of a planet when viewed through a small telescope. A planetary nebula forms when dying sun-like stars eject their outer gaseous layers, which then become bright nebulae with amazing and confounding shapes. The Eskimo Nebula is about 5,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Gemini and began forming about 10,000 years ago.

Image Credit: NASA

Grocery store items, pro sports teams, and country music bands have all removed racially insensitive names.

Now, NASA is adding celestial bodies to the list that includes Aunt Jemima, the Washington Football Team and hitmakers The Chicks and Lady A.

“Eskimo Nebula” and “Siamese Twins Galaxy” are out, for example.

“Nicknames are often more approachable and public-friendly than official names for cosmic objects, such as Barnard 33, whose nickname ‘the Horsehead Nebula’ invokes its appearance,” NASA said in a release this week. “But often seemingly innocuous nicknames can be harmful and detract from the science.”

NASA is examining its use of phrases for planets, galaxies and other cosmic objects “as part of its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

The space agency says it “will use only the official, International Astronomical Union designations in cases where nicknames are inappropriate.”

Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, DC, said, “Science is for everyone, and every facet of our work needs to reflect that value.”

In June, Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream said it was dropping the brand “Eskimo Pie” after a century. The word is commonly used in Alaska to refer to Inuit and Yupik people, according to the Alaska Native Language Center at the University of Alaska. “This name is considered derogatory in many other places because it was given by non-Inuit people and was said to mean ‘eater of raw meat.'” People of Canada and Greenland prefer other names.

“Siamese twins” is an antiquated expression for conjoined twins, based on brothers from Siam (now Thailand) who were used as sideshow freaks in the 19th century.

The renaming trend followed worldwide protests against racism and police brutality after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police.

Trademark and Copyright 2020 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

Popular

Latest

More News