Conventions for the naming of elements on the surface of the planets are not inclusive enough and favor men’s names, said a researcher, the author of a study that revealed that less than 2% of the craters on Mars are named after women, informs DPA and PA Media, quoted by Agerpres.ro.
An analysis of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) database revealed that only 32 (representing 2%) of the 1,578 craters on the Moon discovered to date bear women’s names.
Planetary features are distinctive elements present on the surface or inside a planet. In addition to craters, they also include mountains, valleys, canyons, volcanoes, oceans, deserts and many other elements.
In an open letter published in the journal Nature Astronomy, Annie Lennox, PhD student at The Open University, claims that the sexist practice of naming planetary features “inherently disadvantages women and marginalized communities”.
The researcher launched a call to the IAU – an international association of professional astronomers – to change its policies “which favor cisgender white men”.
“Space exploration has revealed celestial bodies made of rock, ice and … metal,” said Annie Lennox.
“With all the worlds in our solar system, it has become a rule that some planetary features, such as craters, are given a name. The distant craters of the Moon, Mars and Mercury represent a history much closer to home: they celebrate the achievements of men and, to a much lesser extent, those of women,” she added.
The Italian astronomer Giovanni Battista Riccioli began, in 1635, to give names to the lunar craters by baptizing his discoveries with the names of famous scientists – a convention still maintained today by the IAU, said Annie Lennox.
Although the IAU does not directly grant the names, it helps to establish working groups or task forces that propose and approve the names of specific elements based on certain norms – often celebrating certain historical or mythological figures, as well as cultural themes.
Annie Lennox believes that the IAU rules have an impact on diversity and inclusion among the scientific communities, which ultimately choose the name.
“The elements on the surfaces of the planets are named according to conventions established and maintained by the IAU,” she said.
“It is frustrating that elements of the current conventions crystallize historical injustices and contribute to the lack of diversity in terms of nomenclature. It is an example of how the systemic underrepresentation and undervaluation of women and marginalized groups manifests itself in today’s scientific systems,” added the British researcher.
She concluded that Mercury is ahead of the Moon and Mars in the representation of women – 49 out of 415 (11.8%) of the craters bear women’s names.
According to Annie Lennox, this is because Mercury is a more recently explored planet compared to other celestial bodies in the Solar System and benefits from the increase in the number of women working in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
However, the situation is much worse from this point of view for Mars, where only five out of 280 (1.8%) craters are named after women.
Although all the craters on Venus are originally named after women, Annie Lennox claims that only 38% of them “are named after women who have made an important contribution to society”.
“On the only planet dedicated to exclusively celebrating the contributions of women, many elements have been named with meaningless, arbitrary first names or with the names of goddesses from mythology to the detriment of real women. The essence of this argument is that the privileging of celebrity status – the emphasis is placed on the recognition and prioritization of fame over achievement – inherently disadvantages women and marginalized groups regardless of field”.
Annie Lennox believes that analyzing the names of craters on several planets was the starting point of the research, but is now working with teams from different places around the world to analyze all the names in the Solar System.
“I baptized a few craters myself. I knew I wanted to name my discoveries after women because I felt the lack of representation of women in the field I was studying, despite the lack of statistics. Awareness of this situation was the basis of the entire project”, added the researcher.