Buying or Naming a Star – Some Facts and Fallacies  

by Paul Rogers (A.S.S.A.) 

You may have heard somewhere that it’s possible to “buy a star” or “name a star” as a gift to someone, or in remembrance of a loved one, or even “win a star” as a prize in a competition. Various companies (usually based in the USA), offer to sell you “exclusive naming rights” for a star. These so called "naming rights" are for a star located somewhere in our Milky Way galaxy.  The sad truth is that no legal naming rights are available or legally permitted to be allocated to any astronomical body - be it a star, asteroid, comet or other celestial object.

 

There are several companies offering these naming rights to stars (check out the W W W and search for "naming a star"), and they charge a substantial fee to have a star "named" or "allocated" to a person.  They supply certificates with details about the star and claim to be able to register (photo 1: Astronomical Society of South Australia, life member, Paul Rogers with the Heights Observatory's 12-inch (32cm) Cassegrain reflecting telescope) the naming rights with the US Library of Congress or some other such plausible claim.  It is on the same level as the various diplomas and doctorates offered for purchase over the Internet.  By the way - there are quite a few companies offering this service - so what happens when the same star is sold by different companies? There is a strict protocol to the naming of newly discovered asteroids or comets - governed by the International Astronomical Union - and supported by all countries involved in real astronomical research.  (A bit like the United Nations of astronomy).  All stars currently plotted in our galaxy have already been allocated a scientific designated name or number that follows a universally accepted cataloguing designation.  This includes stars well beyond naked eye visibility and most amateur telescope capabilities. It's sad and embarrassing when innocent members of the public attend viewing nights and ask to have "their star" pointed out to them.  They are supplied with co-ordinates that are for an actual star - usually too faint to be seen - or not even visible from the southern hemisphere.  Imagine the disappointment when they can't be shown their "star" and that it has already been allocated a name, long before they "purchased" their "name."

 

These companies often prey on emotions by advertising “naming rights” so that you can remember a deceased loved one in perpetuity.  Who is going to tell the grieving relatives, that the certificate should be treated as "something nice" but in reality is valueless as far as the name goes, and on top (Photo 2: Trish Ellin, Gail Glasper & author Paul Rogers at the Heights Observatory in Adelaide, South Australia) of that - the star can't be shown because it's too faint or not visible at all! These “certificates” and "naming rights" should be treated as a novelty at best - and in that regard they are great - but it's when they are purchased or offered as a way of perpetuating a loved one's memory that the idea is abhorrent!  Some community groups offer this service as a fund raising exercise - but they ensure this is publicly known and they usually state that they can't really sell a name of a star. There have been court cases reported in the USA about the issues relating to the legality and misleading advertising of the sale of naming rights for stars.  One company even took another company to court for engaging in the same practice!  As far as is known, there are no companies based in Australia currently selling star “naming rights”, but be warned…..

Further information can be found at:  

http://www.iau.org/IAU/FAQ/starnames.html
http://www.angelfire.com/tx4/hoaxdetective/scams_02.html

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Updated 2nd of May 2005