Astronomers are calling for two galaxies to be renamed due to the “violent colonialism” of the explorer they are named after.
Two satellite galaxies of the Milky Way have for centuries been named after Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese sailor who is most known for leading the 1519 Spanish expedition to the East Indies, in the first European trip to Asia across the Pacific Ocean.
The galaxies are named the Large and Small Megellanic Clouds, visible in the night sky of the southern hemisphere.
But astronomers argue the names should be changed as the explorer enslaved and burned down the homes of Indigenous peoples during his famous voyage – and indeed was killed in a battle with them in 1521 in what is now the Philippines.
Astronomer Mia de los Reyes, of Amherst College in Massachusetts, wrote for the journal APS Physics: “Magellan committed horrific acts. In what became Guam and the Philippines, he and his men burned villages and killed their inhabitants.”
Ms de los Reyes added: “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 said that keeping the name “alienates the communities who have been harmed”.
Professor David Hogg of New York University also pointed out that the clouds were not discovered by Magellan and were not named after him until the 19th century.
Before then indigenous people across the southern hemisphere would have already had names for the clouds.
Milky Clouds has been suggested as one possible replacement name.
Ms de los Reyes is also pushing for the renaming of astronomical devices named after Magellan, including the twin 6.5-m Magellan telescopes and upcoming Giant Magellan Telescope, based in Chile.
Scientists argue that it would be better not to use the name of individuals, but of ideals, to name stars, species, or parts of the world – such as Nasa’s Mars rovers named Curiosity, Perseverance and Spirit.
It is the latest in a series of efforts to rename buildings, streets and other cultural entities whose namesakes with a darker side to their history.
In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, an estimated 39 names – including streets, buildings and schools – and 30 statues, plaques and other memorials have been or are undergoing changes or removal.
Four streets – John Hawkins Square in Plymouth, and Havelock Road, Black Boy Lane and Cassland Road Gardens in London – have also either been renamed or are in the process of being so.
But the process itself has run into issues – with the renaming of Black Boy Lane to poet and activist John La Rose, who co-founded the first Caribbean publishing company in Britain, lacking the support of most local residents including those from diverse communities.
The renaming of the street, which cost £186,000, was even objected to by Mr La Rose’s own family, who argued it was a waste of resources and tokenistic.