Astronomers want to give space a socially conscious makeover, push for renaming Magellan galaxies

Stars, galaxies, and their celestial names are above humans and our inherent bigotry…or are they? 

A group of scientists has called for the renaming of galaxies named after a 16th-century explorer, who they say left behind a “violent colonialist legacy”. 

They say that science is for everyone and that astrological objects should not be named after someone with the stain of slavery on their legacy.

All in the name?

The Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, dwarf galaxies in the Milky Way, are named after 16th-century Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan.

Visible to the naked eye from the Southern Hemisphere, these galaxies, as per claims, were “discovered” by Magellan and his crew between 1519 and 1522. They apparently discovered them during their first circumnavigation of the world.

However, a group of astronomers from the United States say that this narrative is false that the galaxies were known to indigenous people for years, and that they had “names and legends for these systems that predate Magellan by thousands of years”.

Why not Magellan’s name?

Writing in the American Physical Society journal, Mia de los Reyes, an assistant professor of astronomy at Amherst College, Massachusetts, said: “The beauty of these starry objects is clouded by their names.”

It’s not just the names of these galaxies they want changed. The twin Magellan telescopes in Chile may also need a name change.

Describing Magellan as “a coloniser, a slaver and a murderer,” Reyes writes: “I and a coalition of astronomers are calling for the scientific community to rename these galaxies, as well as other astronomical objects, institutions, and facilities that bear his name.”

“I and many other astronomers believe that astronomical objects and facilities should not be named after Magellan, or after anyone else with a violent colonialist legacy,” she adds.

However, not everyone likes the idea. 

A conservative MP for Harrow East, Bob Blackman, as per The Telegraph, has labelled the calls to rename these galaxies as “absolute nonsense”.

He says that given that so many historical figures had their feet in the slave trade, we may not “have many left” that don’t hurt someone’s sensibilities.

“We can all look back on various different people’s involvement in the slave trade, but the reality is that if you’re going to start renaming everything that involved everyone from the slave trade, you won’t have many left.”

(With inputs from agencies)

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