Nilima Marshall, PA Science Reporter
20 November, 2023 00:46
Guidelines for naming a planet’s surface features are not inclusive enough and biased towards men, an academic said, with less than 2% of craters on Mars named after women.
An analysis of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) database revealed that only 32 (2%) of the 1,578 known lunar craters bear a woman’s name.
Planetary features are distinctive features or elements on or within the surface of a planet.
Along with craters, they also include mountains, canyons, valleys, volcanoes, oceans, deserts, and more.
In an open letter published in the journal Nature Astronomy, Open University doctoral researcher Annie Lennox said the male-biased culture of naming planetary features „inherently disadvantages women and marginalized groups”.
He urges the IAU – the International Union of Professional Astronomers – to change its policies that „favor cis (cisgender) white men”.
Ms Lennox, from Aberdeenshire, said: „Space exploration has revealed worlds of rock, ice and metal.
„For all worlds in our solar system, it has become customary to name prominent surface features such as craters.
„Distant craters on the Moon, Mars and Mercury record history much closer to home: celebrating the achievements of humanity, and to a lesser extent, womanhood.”
Italian astronomer Giovanni Battista Riccioli first began naming lunar craters in 1635, adopting the names of scientists famous for his discoveries — a convention still maintained by the IAU today, Ms. Lennox said.
Although the IAU does not provide names, it helps establish task forces or working groups to propose and approve names for specific features based on certain guidelines – often honoring historical figures or mythological or cultural themes.
Ms Lennox said the IAU’s guidelines have an impact on the diversity and inclusion of scientific communities.
He said: „Surface features are named for the following conventions established and maintained by the IAU.
„Frustratingly, elements of the current conventions crystallize historical injustices and contribute to a lack of diversity in nomenclature.
„This is an example of how the systematic underrepresentation and undervaluation of women and marginalized groups manifests itself in today’s scientific settings.”
His research found that Mercury is slightly better than the Moon and Mars in its representation of women – 49 out of 415 (11.8%) craters have a female name.
Ms Lennox believes Mercury is the most recently explored planet compared to some others in the solar system and may have benefited from an increase in the number of women working in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Mars appears worst with only five female names out of 280 (1.8%) craters.
Meanwhile, Ms Lennox said all craters on Venus had female names but only 38% were „names of real women who made a real contribution to society”.
She said: „In an effort to exclusively celebrate the contribution of women, more features are given meaningless, arbitrary female first names or the names of mythological goddesses than real women’s names.
„The crux of this argument is that the weighting of celebrity status—the emphasis on recognition and the fundamental prioritization of fame over contribution—is inherently disadvantageous to women and marginalized groups in any field.”
Ms Lennox said her starting point was researching the names of craters across the planets, but is now working with teams around the world to analyze each named feature in the solar system.
She said: “I have named some ditches myself.
„I knew I wanted to name my findings after women because I could sense a lack of women in the area I was studying, statistics on which were not readily available.
„That realization really fueled this whole project.”
„Oddany rozwiązywacz problemów. Przyjazny hipsterom praktykant bekonu. Miłośnik kawy. Nieuleczalny introwertyk. Student.