Explorer's Name Shouldn't Be in Lights, Astronomers Say

'Murderous and awful' Ferdinand Magellan doesn't deserve the honor, some argue
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 13, 2023 5:45 PM CST
Updated Nov 18, 2023 4:15 PM CST
Explorer's Name Shouldn't Be in Lights, Astronomers Say
A 16-century portrait of Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan   (Getty/Gwengoat)

Astronomers are questioning whether anyone should look up to Ferdinand Magellan. Two satellite galaxies in the Milky Way are named the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds in the 16th-century explorer's honor. It's a tribute he doesn't deserve, they say, per the Guardian. "Magellan committed horrific acts," said Mia de los Reyes of Amherst College. "In what became Guam and the Philippines, he and his men burned villages and killed their inhabitants." Reyes argues in the journal APS Physics that astronomical objects and installations should not be named after Magellan "or anyone else with a violent colonialist legacy."

There's another argument for repealing the honor. Magellan indeed was "murderous and awful," professor David Hogg of New York University told Space.com. Not only that, "the clouds aren't his discovery," Hogg said. Indigenous people had long seen the objects across the Southern Hemisphere and gave them their own names. It was late in the 19th century before Magellan's name was attached to them. Magellan was killed in battle against Indigenous people in what is now the Philippines in 1521, shortly after his Spanish expedition established the first European navigation to Asia via the Pacific.

"When we uphold the names of people, such as Magellan, whose lives and legacies have actively caused harm, we alienate the communities who have been harmed," Reyes said. He also wants the explorer's name removed from the twin Magellan telescopes, as well as the future Giant Magellan Telescope, based in Chile. That country also has the Magellan Straits. One possibility for renaming the Magellanic Clouds is the "Milky Clouds," per Science News. That way, their acronyms wouldn't change. (More Large Magellanic Cloud stories.)

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