NASA has announced that it will be examining the unofficial nicknames given by the scientific community to “cosmic objects” such as planets, galaxies, and nebulae. They say that they must do this as it has become clear that “certain cosmic nicknames are not only insensitive, but can be actively harmful.” Even seemingly innocuous nicknames, they say, “can be harmful and detract from the science.”
It has long been a tradition to give cosmic objects informal nicknames in order to more easily differentiate them, as their official names are usually just a series of letters and numerical designators.
NASA say that as an initial step they will no longer refer to planetary nebula NGC 2392 as the Eskimo Nebula, as Eskimo is “widely viewed as a colonial term with a racist history, imposed on the indigenous people of Arctic regions.”
Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate said, “Our goal is that all names are aligned with our values of diversity and inclusion.” NASA say they will be working with “diversity, inclusion, and equity experts” to provide “guidance and recommendations for other nicknames and terms for review.”
No word yet on what other terms experts will recommend be considered for review or how long we have before the term black hole is deemed racist.