It turns out that not even planetary nebulas are immune to political correctness.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced recently that it was renaming some planetary nebulas in space to ensure that their current names do not potentially offend anybody.
The agency said in a press release that it will no longer refer to planetary nebula NGC 2392 as the “Eskimo nebula” and it will no longer refer to refer to NGC 4567 and NGC 4568, a pair of spiral galaxies found in the Virgo Galaxy Cluster, as the “Siamese Twins Galaxy.”
Why the change? NASA said in its press release, “‘Eskimo’ is widely viewed as a colonial term with a racist history, imposed on the indigenous people of Arctic regions. Most official documents have moved away from its use.”
And regarding the twin galaxies: “NASA will use only the official, International Astronomical Union designations in cases where nicknames are inappropriate.”
Regarding planetary nicknames in general, the agency said, “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. But often seemingly innocuous nicknames can be harmful and detract from the science.”
NASA said that other planetary names may be likely to follow, stating, “The Agency will be working with diversity, inclusion, and equity experts in the astronomical and physical sciences to provide guidance and recommendations for other nicknames and terms for review.”
NASA has an entire office dedicated to endeavors such as examining the names of planetary nebulas. The Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity has a mission which “leads diversity and civil rights policies, programs, and services – enabling the universe of available talent to contribute inclusively and equitably to NASA,” according to the office’s website.
Are there any other planetary nebulas that you think should be renamed because they are offensive? You can list your suggestions in the comments below. Given that this can be a touchy topic, please remember to keep the discussion and any disagreements respectful and civil.