In a call for change, a coalition of astronomers, led by Mia de los Reyes, has put forth a compelling argument for renaming two prominent galaxies, the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) and the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC), which are situated near our Milky Way. These galaxies, often used as cosmic laboratories to study star formation, currently bear the names of Ferdinand Magellan, a figure with a controversial history, and whom astronomers argue was not the first to identify these celestial realms.
The Argument for Change
Ferdinand Magellan, known as a Portuguese explorer, is remembered for his exploits during the Age of Exploration, including documented instances of violence, enslavement, and devastation of indigenous communities. He set sail with the goal of circumnavigating the globe and had a direct hand in acts of cruelty, such as enslaving the native Teluche people in present-day Argentina. As the primary inspiration for the names of these galaxies, this history has raised questions about the appropriateness of retaining this nomenclature.
These galaxies were not even widely associated with Magellan's name until the 1800s, centuries after his expeditions. According to de los Reyes, there is no reason to honor a person who neither discovered these galaxies nor had any connection to astronomy. Instead, it is suggested that a more fitting name, resonating with the scientific significance of these galaxies, should replace the current nomenclature.
One potential approach is to follow the example of Mars rovers and use ideals rather than individuals as names. An alternative is to choose names that reflect the galaxies' association with the Southern Hemisphere, such as "Meridional." Another suggestion is "Milky," emphasizing their connection to the Milky Way.
A Growing Momentum
While this renaming proposal is not entirely new, it has gained momentum in recent years, in tandem with broader discussions around the renaming of landmarks and celestial objects. Astronomers widely support the change, acknowledging the lack of justification for retaining the existing names.
As the coalition continues to grow and refine its arguments, it intends to bring the matter to the International Astronomical Union. With the backing of the scientific community, the LMC and SMC may soon receive new identities more in line with their significant roles in the field of astronomy.
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