All deep-sky objects (any celestial object outside the solar system) are cool. Either they’re colorful, detailed, or just plain huge — astronomically huge. But, oh, man, some of the names that people have come up with to describe them! Let’s just say it might have been better to keep referring to them by their numbers in whatever sky catalog they’re in, notable or obscure.
So, here’s my list of the 10 lamest monikers for awe-inspiring objects. And I’m pretty certain this list isn’t all-inclusive. You’ll probably be able to add one or two that you know of.
#10: IC 3568 — The Theoretician’s Planetary
This not-so-common name comes from a noted astronomer once writing, “If IC 3568 did not exist, it might have been created by theoreticians.” But, hey, you be the judge. Is this stinker better or worse than yet another name for this object — the Sliced Lime Nebula?
#9: The Broken Engagement Ring
This one’s a real downer. It’s a quarter-degree-wide binocular asterism 1.5° west of Merak (Beta Ursae Majoris). But is it a broken ring, or a ring signifying a broken engagement? Either case is sad. Let’s just move on.
#8: NGC 7026 — the Cheeseburger Nebula
Not all amateur astronomers are fat. In my experience, however, most subsist on diets that starving children in third-world countries would refuse. Yet here comes the Cheeseburger Nebula. Yikes. I think I’ll find a bright group of stars and name it the Fresh Salad Cluster, just to offer a little yin to the Cheeseburger’s yang.
#7: IRAS 18059–3211 — Gomez’s Hamburger
Gomez’s Hamburger // NASA/Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
I guess if you have a celestial cheeseburger, why not a similar sandwich without the dairy? This great object has spawned some debate among researchers. Is it an old Sun-like star that became a planetary nebula or a young star with a dusty disk that may someday form planets? And why “Gomez’s,” you ask? Because astronomer Arturo Gomez discovered it in 1985. Would you like fries with that?
#6: NGC 7331 and friends — the Deer Lick Group
Back in the 1980s, an amateur astronomer had a memorable observation of this group of galaxies in Pegasus from the Deer Lick Gap in North Carolina. Hmm. I’m glad I never named any deep-sky objects during telescope sessions as a teenager at the Weirton Dump in upstate West Virginia.
#5: NGC 457 — the Owl Cluster
Ha! Just kidding, Dave. (My boss, Astronomy’s Editor, David J. Eicher, gave this cluster its outstandingly fabulous name in 1977.)
#5 (the real one): NGC 4631 — the Herring Galaxy
This spectacular spiral galaxy has had a classic name — the Whale Galaxy — for decades. Then someone must have thought, “Nah, that’s just too majestic. Let’s call it the Herring instead.” On second thought, why don’t we just retire that ultra-lame handle and keep Whale? It’s a galaxy. You know. Like, big and bad. Like a whale. It’s not a dwarf galaxy, but even that wouldn’t warrant dubbing it a herring. Bah!
#4: NGC 7008 — the Fetus Nebula
The Fetus Nebula // Don Goldman
Yuck! This planetary nebula in Cygnus got its creepy appellation in 2001 from an observation an amateur astronomer made through a 22-inch telescope. Now that’s a level of detail I’m not sure I’m after when I put eye to eyepiece. Astronomy Contributing Editor Stephen James O’Meara — probably appalled by the moniker — later christened it the Coat Button Nebula. Still lame, I’ll grant you, but a lot less creepy!
#3: NGC 1502 — the Jolly Roger Cluster
This is such a beautiful open cluster. It deserves a cool name. “Jolly Roger,” unfortunately, isn’t it. I mean, has anyone looked at this object and genuinely imagined a pirate flag made of a skull and crossed bones? How about if we call it the Fresh Salad Cluster instead? Yeah, I like that.
#2: NGC 6907 — the Giant Behemoth Galaxy
I’m about to come clean. I’m not immune to the lure of tossing a tag at a deep-sky object and seeing if it sticks. I’ve done it several times, but perhaps the weakest attempt was in the case of NGC 6907. I think it looks like the prehistoric monster that terrorized England in the 1959 movie of the same name. And what rhymes with “same” and “name”? Yep. “Lame.”
#1: M99 — St. Catherine’s Wheel
M99 // Adam Block/Mount Lemmon SkyCenter/University of Arizona
I’ve saved the best (worst?) for last. I don’t know who gave the magnificent spiral galaxy M99 this name, but this isn’t the kind of mental picture I want to bring to the eyepiece. Named after the Christian martyr St. Catherine of Alexandria, the wheel was a medieval torture device used to break the bones of anyone placed upon it. Lame. Beyond lame. Lame squared.