The Daily Telegraph
Astronomers in sexism row over female-named craters
ASTRONOMY officials are facing calls to alter “biased” policies for naming objects as research reveals fewer than 2 per cent of Mars’s craters are named after women.
An analysis of the International Astronomical Union’s (IAU) database has also shown that only 32 out of 1,578 known craters on the moon bear a woman’s name. On Mars the proportion is worse, with just five of the 280 (1.8 per cent) craters named after women.
Planetary features are distinctive characteristics or elements present on the surface of, or within, the planet. Alongside craters, they also include mountains, valleys, canyons, volcanoes, oceans, deserts and many more.
In an open letter published in the journal Nature Astronomy, Annie Lennox, a doctoral researcher at The Open University, said the male-biased culture of naming planetary features “inherently disadvantages women and marginalised groups”. She is urging the IAU – an international association of professional astronomers – to change its policies which are “biased towards [cisgender] white men”.
Ms Lennox, from Aberdeenshire, said: “Space exploration has revealed worlds of rock, of ice and... metal. For all the 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 a history much closer to home: celebrating the achievements of mankind, and to a much lesser extent womankind.”
Giovanni Battista Riccioli, the Italian astronomer, first started naming lunar craters in 1635, adopting the names of scientists for his discoveries – a convention still maintained by the IAU today, Ms Lennox said.
While the IAU does not bestow the names itself, it does help establish working groups or task forces to propose and approve names.
Ms Lennox said IAU’S guidelines have an impact on the diversity and inclusivity for the scientific communities that ultimately choose the names.
She said: “Elements of the current conventions crystallise historic injustices and contribute to a lack of diversity within the nomenclature.
“This is an example of how systemic underrepresentation and undervaluation of women and marginalised groups manifests in today’s scientific systems.”