NASA is being ridiculed for its decision to stop using the nicknames for two of its celestial phenomena, the Siamese Twins Galaxy and the Eskimo Nebula, because they are "insensitive" and "hurtful".
The space agency announced on Wednesday it would reexamine the unofficial nicknames given to some cosmic objects since it is working to "identify and address systemic discrimination and inequality in all aspects of the field".
The name "Eskimo Nebula" was given to the glowing remains of a dying sun-like star that is blowing off its outer layers in 1787, when it was first observed.
Now, it will instead be referred to as NGC 2392, its International Astronomical Union name.
"'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," NASA says.
A pair of spiral galaxies found in the Virgo Galaxy Cluster previously called the "Siamese Twins Galaxy" will also be referred to by their official names, NGC 4567 and NGC 4568. This is part of NASA's efforts to align celestial objects with current thinking and conventions.
"These nicknames and terms may have historical or cultural connotations that are objectionable or unwelcoming, and NASA is strongly committed to addressing them," NASA associate administrator for diversity and equal opportunity Stephen Shih says.
"Science depends on diverse contributions, and benefits everyone, so this means we must make it inclusive."
NASA says it will only use appropriate nicknames for cosmic objects in the future. Celestial phenomena such as Barnard 33, nicknamed "the Horsehead Nebula", would be able to keep their names.
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Although some people praised their actions, others on Twitter were critical of NASA's "woke" behaviour.
"I am not an American so this may sound disingenuous but as a non-white person this looks a lot like white guilt-motivated panic sweeping issues under the rug. A need to wash your hands clean of history with a quick-fix solution instead of education dealing with said issues," one says.
"Your job, NASA, is to explore space and understand the cosmos. Not to appease the woke cult through virtue signalling," another says.
"Jesus, NASA. Get a grip. Why don't you sponsor some scientific programs in low-income schools? You know, something that might actually help. This navel-gazing nonsense helps no one. The aliens are never going to make contact at this rate," a third says.
But others supported the dropping of the nicknames.
"Y'all are being reflexively silly by opposing this. Choose your battles wisely. I don't like PC culture either, but there's nothing wrong with dropping 'Eskimo' and 'siamese-twins' as monikers of astral phenomena. These words are offensive to some people. It's not rocket science," one says.
NASA says it will work with diversity, inclusion, and equity experts in the astronomical and physical sciences to provide guidance and recommendations for other nicknames and terms for review.
"I support our ongoing reevaluation of the names by which we refer to astronomical objects," associate administrator of NASA's science mission directorate in Washington Thomas Zurbuchen says.
"Our goal is that all names are aligned with our values of diversity and inclusion, and we'll proactively work with the scientific community to help ensure that. Science is for everyone, and every facet of our work needs to reflect that value."