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NASA To Stop Using Derogatory Or Problematic Nicknames For Space Objects


Katy Evans

Katy is Managing Editor at IFLScience where she oversees editorial content from News articles to Features, and even occasionally writes some.

Managing Editor


Nebula NGC 2392 will no longer be referred to as the "Eskimo Nebula". NASA

NASA has announced it is to review its use of nicknames for cosmic objects such as galaxies and nebulas and stop using any that are considered insensitive, problematic, or harmful.

Sometimes the scientific naming of a space object is either long, unpronounceable, or just doesn't reflect the excitement or wonder said cosmic object does on actually looking at it. For example, Ou4 isn't particularly snappy, but its unofficial name, the Squid Nebula, I'd like to see. However, some nicknames have not aged well. You could argue, some were never OK to use in the first place, but, most likely following on from the Black Lives Matter protests this year and the wider recognition of systemic racism, micro-aggressions, and problematic historic language, NASA has now identified two such objects that moving forward will only be referred to as their proper scientific names and not their unofficial ones. 


The agency will no longer refer to the planetary nebula known as the "Eskimo Nebula" by this name, instead sticking to NGC 2392. “'Eskimo' is widely viewed as a colonial term with a racist history, imposed on the indigenous people of Arctic regions," the agency wrote in a statement. Modern linguists think the word Eskimo comes from a Montagnais (the Indigenous peoples of eastern Canada) word referring to how to lace a snowshoe, but the most common understanding is that it was a purposeful misuse of a Native American Abenaki word meaning "eaters of raw meat," and it became a derogatory and scornful term for English speakers to describe the Indigenous Arctic peoples.

The second name NASA will no longer use is the “Siamese Twins Galaxy”, used to describe NGC 4567 and NGC 4568, a pair of spiral galaxies found in the Virgo galaxy cluster. The term "Siamese twins" is used to refer to conjoined twins, but its historical usage is traced back to the 19th century exploitative "freak shows", like PT Barnum's American Museum (The Greatest Showman rather glossed over his unsavory aspects), where people paid to look at Eng and Chang Bunker, Siamese-American adult conjoined twins who were born in Thailand, formerly Siam, and brought to America in 1829. 

"These nicknames and terms may have historical or culture connotations that are objectionable or unwelcoming, and NASA is strongly committed to addressing them," said Stephen T. Shih, associate administrator for Diversity and Equal Opportunity at NASA Headquarters. "Science depends on diverse contributions, and benefits everyone, so this means we must make it inclusive.”  


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