Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Thinking of purchasing a star name? Read this.


This is my image of Omicron 2 Eridani, a triple star system with a young star plus red and white dwarfs. It goes by the name of Keid, and you CANNOT pay to change this.

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) controls the naming of astronomical objects. It doesn’t sell star names. Most bright star names have deep historical roots and nobody in astronomy with any shred of decency would try to change them.

Anyone claiming to sell star names is misleading their customers. It’s particularly pernicious when they claim to have ”teamed up with the star registry”, thereby giving the illusion of some kind of association with the IAU, when in fact the star name you purchase will never be associated with the star on official star maps or used by astronomers, nor is it likely to be used by the general public.

Selling star names is not only misleading; it can also be done incompetently. One prominent star name seller charges extra for “stars in constellations”, but all stars are in constellations, and they appear to mean “stars connected by lines on star maps”, but connecting lines differ from map to map. Moreover, they charge extra for “rare double stars” when in fact many stars are gravitationally bound with others.

Don’t be fooled by a flashy website. Star seller websites are often carefully crafted to convince you that your purchase will actually result in a change in star name, but this is not true. The example below mirrors how one prominent star name seller operates.

Suppose I arrange for a friend to set up a “species registry” - an on-line database of living species names. I then start a company to sell species names, claiming that I have a special relationship with the “species registry”. For $49.95 you can have your name attached to a species. For $69.95 you can name a large mammal, $99 would get you a virulent disease name, and for $149 you and your partner could name two closely related flower species. On my website I highlight the special relationship I have with the “species registry”, and then hidden away in the terms and conditions I mention that the species registry is “not associated with a learning institution or government body” which really means that neither biologists nor the general public will use the name you choose for your species. Most people don’t read the terms and conditions, and in reality the terms and conditions contradict the impression given by the main website. After purchase I will of course email you a “certificate” of your species name, along with an image of the species whose “name” you had bought. This would be a meaningless product, equivalent to selling star names.

So, if you really wish to pay an exorbitant sum to have an entry changed in a meaningless “star registry” that almost nobody will ever use, go for it. At least you now know that you are not securing a widely used star name for posterity. No astronomers will look up and think of your name, nor will the general public adopt your name for the star. 

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