Imagine a perfect gift for your loved one: a real star from the sky! Named after your soulmate, purchased, and certified. How convenient is it that there are so many agencies that sell stars! But wait, why do they refuse to show your star in the local observatory? And why can’t you find the precious name in any star catalog or a stargazing app? The sad truth is you can’t own a star or name it for money — let’s discuss why.
Can I buy a star?
No, you absolutely can’t. There is no commercial star registration, and no star catalog, local observatory, or anyone connected to the scientific community would recognize your rights to a star. As the 1967 Outer Space Treaty proclaims, outer space shall be the province of all humankind and be explored in the interests of all countries, not a government or one particular person. So, you can only waste your money on worthless fancy paper. Only the organization that sold you a star will probably acknowledge your rights to it and keep the star in its own internal catalog. However, even that is certain only for the old “reputable” companies (some of them purport to sell stars since the 70s!).
Can I buy a star name?
It’s also not possible to buy a star name. The International Astronomical Union is the only institution with a right to name celestial bodies. And IAU’s position here is clear: “As an international scientific organization, the IAU dissociates itself entirely from the commercial practice of “selling” fictitious star names, surface feature names, or real estate on other planets or moons in the Solar System.” There are ways to give a name to a celestial object — we’ll tell you about them later, but in no case it’s done for money.
Can I adopt a star?
You can, in a way. Some non-profit organizations suggest to “adopt a star”, which means donating to the research of particular sky objects. You still won’t find your name in official catalogs and won’t truly own a star, but you will get a star certificate for your pleasure and a star marked on the organization’s internal data bank in Google Sky. And the real benefit is that you will contribute to science. Besides, their price for that kind of service is much lower, which is also a way to fight dishonest businesses.
Still, can I name a star if I really want to?
You can, if you wish, but it probably isn’t worth paying for.
Is naming a star legitimate?
No law prohibits renaming anything if you don’t use trademarks or offensive words. Hence, a star here is no different from a cat, a toy, or a stone, but again — no official astronomy organization will recognize your “naming rights”. You can as well create and print your own star map.
How much does it cost to name a star?
If you still want to purchase а novelty piece of paper with your name on it but without any legal force — it will cost you from $10.
How are stars officially named?
International Astronomical Union assigns designations of stars recognized and used by the scientific community worldwide. The final decision on a name is always on IAU, but it does encourage the public naming of celestial objects like planetary satellites, newly discovered exoplanets, and their host stars. Names can be chosen through public naming campaigns (like NameExoWorlds), but all of them must strictly follow the naming guidelines of the IAU.
Designations of stars
Designations of stars are alphanumeric, and now they are automatically assigned by computers. For the stars discovered long ago, scientists use designations from the approved star catalogs. The most famous are the Bayer catalog and the Flamsteed catalog, published in 1603 and 1725. The stars listed in several catalogs can be referred to with the different designations.
Proper names of stars
Proper names are given only to the brightest stars with great cultural, historical, agricultural, or scientific meaning. For instance, the star HR 2491 is also called Sirius, and we know the star HR 424 by the name Polaris. The Working Group on Star Names of IAU collects the ancient star names used in different cultures. It’s aimed to preserve cultural diversity while making it easier to locate, describe, and discuss any sky object in any language. It’s long-term work, and some traditional names are still to be approved.
Stars named after people
Apart from ancient names, IAU may name a star after a historical figure, though it rarely happens. Three of the famous stars dedicated to people are:
- Cervantes (Mu Arae). Named after Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes.
- Copernicus (55 Cancri A). Named after astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus.
- Cor Caroli (“The Heart of Charles” — Alpha Canum Venaticorum). Named after King Charles I of England.
You have more chances to name a celestial object if you discover it, but you still have to follow the naming rules. If you want to dedicate a sky object to yourself — discover a comet. They are commonly named after individual discoverers or institutions. For example, one of the latest discovered comets C/2021 A1 “Leonard” was named after its discoverer, American astronomer Gregory J. Leonard.
Bottom line: So, is naming a star after someone a good gift? No, if you want to make a real present, not a fancy piece of paper. If you still want to get such a certificate, you can “adopt a star” from a non-profit astronomy project. But if you truly love stars — buy a telescope or get one of the free stargazing apps. They won’t place your name where it doesn’t belong but will help you to learn the actual names, locations, and further details about the infinite universe.
Let all the stars shine out for you!
Text Credit: Vito Technology, Inc.