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NASA changes the names of cosmic objects with “insensitive” nicknames

Many cosmic objects are known to scientists with unofficial nicknames, but not all of these nicknames are created equal. As it turns out, some are really offensive.

NASA is working to change this by evaluating the nicknames currently in use and making changes to those that are insensitive.

There has been a general trend towards inclusion and redress in the past in recent times, and NASA is taking action.

In a statement published it NASA.gov, the agency explained its reasoning for changing the way they refer to these cosmic features whose names are problematic:

“As the scientific community works to identify and address systemic discrimination and inequality in all aspects of the field, it has become clear that certain cosmic nicknames are not only insensitive but can be actively harmful.”


“NASA is examining its use of unofficial terminology for cosmic objects as part of its commitment to diversity, justice and inclusion.”

Among those cited as problematic is NGC 2392, a planetary nebula whose nickname contains a name for the indigenous people of the Arctic Circle that many find offensive.

Associate Director of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at headquarters, Thomas Zurbuchen, talked a bit about why change is important.

“I support our ongoing revaluation of the names by which we refer to astronomical objects. Our goal is that all names are in line with our values ​​of diversity and inclusion, and we must work proactively with the scientific community to ensure that.”

“Science is for everyone, and every aspect of our work must reflect that value.”

NASA will work with “diversity, inclusion and stock experts in astronomical and physical sciences” to review other nicknames and make changes where appropriate.

Unfortunately, much of the reaction to NASA’s announcement on social media seems to be people insisting that change is unnecessary and that NASA is only caves to “awaken culture.”

It is probably safe to say that these people have never tried to learn about astronomy, only to encounter a celestial object whose name contains a rattlesnake used against their people.

Stephen T. Shih, associate administrator for diversity and equal opportunities at NASA’s headquarters, also acknowledged the need for change.

“These nicknames and terms may have historical or cultural connotations that are offensive or unwelcome, and NASA is strongly committed to addressing them.”

“Science depends on different contributions and benefits everyone, so that means we have to make it inclusive.”

Inclusivity by nature creates opportunities and encompasses people’s differences and strengths. It costs nothing to change an offensive name, and is a good first step towards making science more accessible to all.

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