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NAMING AND BUYING STARS
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW


Updated 18th September 2020

 

Naming and buying stars - what you should know

         Introduction

         Who can sell or name a star or other celestial object?

         How much will it cost?

         What do you get for your money

         Who can buy or name a star or other celestial object?

         Who can officially name a star or other celestial object?

         What does this mean then?

         So who has been naming stars and selling bits of celestial objects?

         Other problems

         The implications for the Society and me

         Finally...

         Naming and Buying Stars, Reader Survey results

 

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INTRODUCTION
The naming and selling of celestial objects has been going on for over 30 years and an enquiry that is sometimes directed towards myself and the Society is that of someone wanting to buy or name a star (or other celestial object), or someone who has already bought or named one. Similar enquiries are also received by other astronomical organisations (both professional and amateur) as well as astronomical publications worldwide.

 

Many questions arise out of the practice of selling and naming stars and the like owing to not a little confusion over the process and this webpage is my attempt to answer some of those questions. I should point out that this page was originally posted over 15 years ago and as such many of the figures are likely to have changed and certain sections of this article have been revised in the light of new information. In summary this page is intended to inform you about some of the facts so that you can make an informed choice before parting with any money.


WHO CAN SELL OR NAME A STAR?
Anybody (even you or I) can sell or name a star or other celestial object so long as the sale is done in an honest and legal manner. There are several companies that state they will name a star for you. There is a company that says it will sell you an acre on the Moon. Another company claims that they can sell you an acre on the planet's Venus and Mars. Yet another company claims that it can name a whole galaxy after you! So before I go any further...

 

         The naming or selling of stars and other celestial objects is NOT scientific and is NOT regulated.

         The naming or selling of stars and other celestial objects is NOT recognised by any genuine scientific or astronomical organisation or body.

         The naming or selling of stars and other celestial objects is NOT acknowledged or used by any astronomical organisation or body.

         The naming or selling of stars and other celestial objects is NOT recommended or advocated by any astronomical organisation or body.

 

         If you buy or name a celestial object, that name will NOT be referred to by any astronomical organisation or body.

         If you buy or name a celestial object, that name will NOT appear on genuine astronomical charts, atlases or references.

 

And as for those who claim they can sell you a plot on the Moon... I have heard of absent landlords but really? Some people believe that there is a loop-hole in the Space Treaty, which says that no country can lay claim to bodies in space, but that it does not ban individuals from doing so. Legally though, it is considered that no-one can lay claim to the Moon, therefore any certificate you buy which claims that you own part of the Moon should only be considered a novelty item.

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HOW MUCH WILL IT COST?
The cost varies but naming a star may cost you something like 50. Buying an acre on the Moon may cost you about 25. A recent celestial 'sale' is that of a whole galaxy - cheap at the price of only about 12.50.

 

Recently I worked out that I could buy all the necessary bits (certificate paper, fancy parchment paper) and do the rest of a typical 'star name' package on my computer. I already have desktop astronomy programs that will print attractive maps and along with the necessary stationery (available locally and at little cost) I could make up a 'star name' package and sell it to someone for about 10. That price included a fancy looking certificate, a map showing where the star was, a letter of congratulation, cardboard envelope, envelope label, and stamp. Even at 10 a pop my profit margin worked out as well in excess of 100%.

 

Based on these figures it should not take you very long to work out that the companies that sell star names and the like can do quite well out of you purchasing one of their products. I concede that if naming stars or similar was my sole business and source of income I might have to add in the cost of office space, telephone line, website, staff, and any other commercial expenses, but I hope you get my meaning.

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WHAT DO YOU GET FOR YOUR MONEY?
In the case of naming a star you would probably get a certificate confirming that the star has been named for you and a chart to show you where it is along with some information about the star. In the case of buying part of the Moon (or part of a planet) one assumes that you get something similar, perhaps a 'deed of ownership' as well. (Would it be too cheeky to suggest that buyers or potential buyers ask to view or visit their property first?)

 

I have personally seen one of the maps given to someone who had a star named for them - a printout from a desktop computer program with 'their' star marked with a ball point pen. I suppose it is possible that the 'owner' had added the mark to the printout, but there were no other indications on the map to point to which of the several hundred 'dots' visible was the star that had been purchased.

 

If I did make up such a package myself it would be just as official or unofficial. Like I said, anyone can name or buy a celestial object - done legally and honestly it will be just as valid as anything that these 'companies' will sell you. One wonders what can be done with this 'ownership' and whether it is truly valid and binding. I mean, if I purchase part of the Moon and some future astronaut trespasses on my 'property' can I tell them to leave? The scene ensuing from such an event would be farcical.

 

Perhaps all that can be said with some certainty is that the purchase will be of some symbolic value, but so far as can be told that is pretty much all. It does seem that the novelty value of such a purchase, the sentimental naming of a star for a loved one, has some clout and I happily concede that is a grand gesture, a human touch. But let us not slump into a comfy chair of sentimentality - it has no sanction, standing, or recognition in the scientific community.

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WHO CAN BUY OR NAME A STAR OR OTHER CELESTIAL OBJECT?
Anyone can buy a star or name one if they are willing to part with money or simply make that effort. Buying seems to imply ownership but as you are hopefully beginning to find out, naming a celestial object, let alone buying or part buying one is not quite as concrete as, say, parting with money for goods where you can so much as touch what you have bought. Another point to ponder is how can a star (or other object) be sold if it is not already owned? After all, no one 'owns' the stars! Consider this: there are about 35 stars in our own galaxy for every person alive - why would you need to buy one?

So here is my suggestion for those of you who want to name a star. Go out on a clear night with a friend, partner, spouse, lover, or whoever. Look up into the night sky and point to any bright star you like and name it. If you do that with someone you are close to surely that is as meaningful as getting someone else to do it for you? It won't take you long, and surely it'll mean just as much, if not more, than if you had paid someone. It won't cost you a penny - and taking the time to go outside on a clear, dark night and look at the stars is one of nature's greatest free spectacles.

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WHO CAN OFFICIALLY NAME A STAR OR OTHER CELESTIAL OBJECT?
For centuries names have been given to bright or notable celestial objects by astronomers and these names, many of which have Middle Eastern origins, have stuck and are still with us today. But given that there are only few thousands of stars visible to the naked-eye on any clear night, and millions of stars that can only be seen with a telescope, no more names are likely to be allotted by astronomical bodies unless the object has some special or unusual property. For reasons or clarity and order all stars now have numbers which are used by astronomers to label objects, assist in their being catalogued and studied, assist in their being found, and so forth. If you want to know how star and other celestial names are really assigned and used by astronomers please have a look at this Wikipedia entry.

 

Nowadays, objects that are discovered, like a comet or asteroid, may be named after the discoverer(s). Moons around other planets or features on the planet or moon have names given to them in accordance certain themes. At the moment the only organisation that names a star, celestial object (or other feature on it) in any regulated or recognised manner is the International Astronomical Union (IAU). The IAU was formed in 1919 to promote and safeguard the science of astronomy via international co-operation. It is recognised by the United Nations and the IAU is the global organisation to which countries of significant astronomical input are members of.

 

Astronomical data is forwarded, recorded and circulated to the IAU, and in this particular instance, some objects may be named. As an astronomical organisation itself, Solent Amateur Astronomers Society is in agreement with this policy. So, if anyone other than the IAU tells you that they can name and sell you a celestial object, and that the name or purchase will be recognised in anything apart from their own records, they are lying!

 

A detractor of this page has taken issue with the use of the term 'official' and it has been pointed out that no one really has the authority to name and sell stars in an official capacity, not even the IAU. Perhaps so, but then surely the same applies to bodies that are not part of or in any way aligned with the IAU?

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WHAT DOES THIS MEAN THEN?
This means that only the IAU, as recognised by most, if not all countries in the world, will name or number a celestial object and that designation will be recognised and used by the rest of the scientific/astronomical community. The naming of celestial objects by organisations other than the IAU is therefore not recognised by any other astronomical or scientific body anywhere. There is no point in you approaching the IAU to sell you a celestial object or have it named after you (or whoever) either, they will not that for you! If anything they are likely to discourage you from buying or naming a celestial object - as will just about any other genuine, serious astronomical and scientific organisation. And me!

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SO WHO HAS BEEN NAMING STARS AND SELLING BITS OF CELESTIAL OBJECTS ?
There are many companies that will claim to name a star for you and they will charge you for that service. Adverts for these companies can be seen in all sorts of places and these days that bastion of information and glossy sales, the internet, is replete with bodies advertising their wares. Recently there has been a growing trend where these companies have started to state somewhere that their naming service is symbolic only and has no official recognition. There's honesty for you, often buried in the small print or on some webpage that is not likely to be the first one you encounter, let alone read.

 

In May 1998 one of these star-naming companies was cited for 10 counts of 'deceptive trade practices' in the United States. The New York City Commissioner of Consumer Affairs issued those citations and the company faced fines of several thousand Dollars. To date I have no idea if those charges were proved. I gather the charges were based on a technicality but this legal action did set up the prospect of putting the practice of star-naming under the spotlight. While one must assume innocence until proven otherwise why would any genuine, honest enterprise be the subject of such procedure?

 

One star naming company once claimed on their website that they used data compiled by the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) in 1983. It is worth pointing out that the HST was deployed and hence made operational from the Space Shuttle Discovery (mission STS-31) in April 1990 - some seven years AFTER it compiled its own star data catalogue - a remarkable feat of time travel!

You may have noticed by now that I have not mentioned who these companies are for the simple reason that by naming them I give credence to their 'service'. By naming them I help you to find out who they are. To name them would negate the whole point of my writing this page.

 

So what is there to stop me forming a star naming company? Very little, apart from a conscience which tells me that I do not own the stars or the Moon and planets. How can I sell you something that I do not already own? A conscience that tells me that I would be selling you something which is little more than a gimmick, something that I have put little or no work into. A product that I know full well will not promote science but will promote my own bank balance. A product that will generally annoy fellow astronomers around the world. You might get to feel good into the bargain, and I'll get your money.

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OTHER PROBLEMS
Star naming, as well as being to all intents and purposes unofficial and unrecognised, is also unregulated; There is nothing to prevent two different companies naming the same star or informing the respective 'owners'. Oddly enough there was a recent legal case in the U.S. where two star naming companies slugged it out in court because they had given different names to a single star and they then engaged in a legal battle to assert their right to that one star. (I would have loved to have sat in on that one!) The inhabitants of any planet orbiting that star remained silent throughout the affair.

 

I was recently made aware of a star name 'purchase' whereby a name had supposedly been attached to a star that was already listed in genuine scientific catalogues. The star in question was visible to the naked eye and had incurred an additional charge for being brighter that their 'normal' sale. The scope for this 'premium' service must be limited since there are only a few thousand star visible to the naked eye. That star, to date, has no proper name, it is simply listed by its various designations in star charts and databases. Those lists are unlikely to change and they are almost certainly not going to have 'John Doe' appended to them.

 

Star naming MAY not be illegal but it is worth pondering whether there is a moral obligation to inform the buyer about the facts. Enquiries directed to this Society indicate that some star-naming companies may not readily inform a buyer about the true status of the naming. But they do try to imply some official sanction by other means, such as listing in a National Library. But then I could have my shopping bill listed in a National Library if I wanted to! They might sell their products alongside official sounding publications or genuine astronomical publications. Another ploy is to list the celebrities who have named stars or had one named after them, as if that implies some seal of approval to their service. Some overpaid film star bought one so that's alright then!

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THE IMPLICATIONS FOR THE SOCIETY AND ME
Some people having made a purchase will want to see 'their' star. Since the vast majority of these 'named stars' are likely to be faint and beyond naked-eye visibility there is the challenge of finding the star in the first place. Then there is the possible disappointment of seeing how insignificant it may be, a point of light barely distinguishable from perhaps hundreds of others in the same field of view. It is almost certain that for a buyer to see 'their star' star they will need a telescope and a few buyers have indeed approached the Society to see their star.

 

Consider this: If an astronomer does go to the trouble of trying to help you find the object you buy or name, they will be doing you a favour. They are not obliged to do so, and if they do show you the object you have bought it may be with some reluctance. Nor is it likely that they will be paid for the privilege of showing you that object. The company selling the object has already been paid however!

The buyer may be dismayed to find out that the name is unregulated and unrecognised and stating these simple truths can be tricky - it is always difficult for anyone to be the bearer of bad news. I have personally been involved in several such awkward situations and I really don't care to have the same experience again. A while back I spoke to a couple who had named a star after a child that they had lost. (That is the second time I have spoken to a couple in that situation.) The star already had a name and is a popular target for astronomers. The couple were quite unaware that the star name they chose would not be recognised and already had an official name, number and designation. Imagine, if you will, how carefully you may have to tread when discussing this?

 

Consider this: If I show a buyer the dim, insignificant speck in the sky (for that is surely what it may be, assuming it can be found) that they have bought or named, and I remain quiet, I then become party to a process that I consider questionable, at worst mendacious. This is something that I find difficult to do and it is unfair on the likes of people like myself to be expected to do that.

The buyer may genuinely believe that they 'own' the object. The legal implications of celestial object ownership would probably occupy a firm of lawyers for years. Arguably, celestial objects belong to no one person but to everyone; our view of space is after all something that almost anyone can appreciate for free! A potential buyer should make up their own mind but the facts about the practice must be spelled out.

 

This does not however detract from a symbolic value, for that's what it is, from one person to another. After all, naming a star for a loved one may certainly be regarded as a romantic gesture. As for the 'owners' of a plot on the Moon one wonders how they will visit their 'property' or enforce their legal rights as 'landowners'!

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FINALLY...
I don't wish to sound heartless or churlish though I am sure that someone can twist my words to make it sound so. But it is your money and you are free to spend it how you see fit. It is possible that if star naming and the like could benefit both the buyer AND scientific bodies; AND be recognised and regulated, the practice may find favour within the astronomical community. Since this is not the case, the Society regards that the naming and selling of celestial objects could be seen as deceptive, fraudulent even, and certainly meaningless in a scientific context. Before you part with your hard earned money and before you go ahead and buy a star name or whatever, consider some alternatives...

 

If you want to make a romantic gesture what is wrong with a REAL gift? Chocolates, a card, a love letter, jewellery, flowers, a meal, clothing, a theatre ticket, a holiday... The list is endless! If you want to make a gesture to a recently lost relative, spouse, child, or lover, why not make a donation to a charity? If that departed person was cared for by a hospice or some other similar establishment why not donate to that organisation? What about the nurses or carers for that person, I'm sure they'd appreciate a gift! If funds are scarce, words written or spoken can be priceless, never underestimate the power of simply saying 'Thank you', 'I love you', 'I miss you', 'I think of you often'.

 

If the gift is for someone still with you... Shops are full of items that they'd appreciate as a gift. Why don't you ask them what they would like as a gift? If you want to surprise them why not buy them a gift connected with the things that they enjoy or are interested in? If the gift is for someone genuinely interested in the stars what is wrong with buying them a subscription to an astronomical magazine? Why not buy them a proper astronomical book or publication, a computer astronomy program, a pair of binoculars - something lasting and useful that can really fuel their interest in astronomy?

 

In conclusion, I think the practice of star names and the like smacks of little more than a money-making scheme and as this page draws to a close it would appear that the only true winners in this issue are those who sell these things. Caveat emptor!

 

 

So, is star-naming and the like an empty gesture or a romantic one? Harmless fun or a shameless scam? A fantastic gift or a monstrous rip-off? If you have read this far it is to be hoped that you can make an informed choice or at least know a little more about the issue. Below is a selection of links that offer further advice and opinion. Suffice to say that the Society does not lend credibility to star-naming companies and their like either by naming them or providing links to them. By now it is to be hoped that by carefully reading this page you will have been put off buying or naming a star or other celestial object.

 

If you have not been put off, well what can I say? It is your money! And if you still wish to part with money then fine, at least you do so armed with the facts. This page was written independently by me and this information is offered for free. I have nothing to gain or lose by presenting this page, there is no interest for me to declare and it is clear that others have similar sentiments. Still not convinced? Check out the links below...

 

         http://www.space.com/spacewatch/mystery_monday_030915.html

 

         https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/j5bavy/sorry-but-star-registries-are-low-key-scams

 

         https://www.universetoday.com/104134/can-you-really-name-a-star/#:~:text=But%20can%20you%20really%20name,by%20the%20International%20Astronomical%20Union.&text=Most%20stars%2C%20especially%20dim%20ones,a%20designation%20in%20a%20catalog.

 

         https://www.iau.org/public/themes/buying_star_names/

 

         https://www.wired.com/2001/12/buy-a-star-but-its-not-yours/

 

         https://theconversation.com/stars-for-sale-but-no-you-cant-really-buy-an-official-star-name-to-remember-someone-92033

 

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NAMING ANG BUYING STARS, READER SURVEY

Lastly, what do people reading this page think of the issue? In 2005 I compiled the results of two survey forms that featured on this page whereby readers filled out the two on-line forms, one before reading the page, and one after. The entry form was located at the top of the page, the exit form was at the bottom of the page. Over 200 different people completed both surveys and each question required a positive response of 'Yes', 'No', or 'Don't know', the default selection was nothing, I only counted completed surveys. The results of that survey are listed below, make of them what you will.


 

ENTRY POLL QUESTIONS

YES

NO

DON'T KNOW

1. Did you find this page via a Search Engine?

92%

5%

3%

2. Did you find this page by following a link from another webpage?

9%

88%

3%

3. Did you visit this page after it was recommended to you by someone?

5%

92%

3%

4. Do you think buying or naming a star or other celestial object is a good idea?

90%

5%

5%

5. Have you already bought or named a star or other celestial object?

2%

96%

2%

6. Are you considering buying or naming a star or other celestial object?

90%

7%

3%

 


 

EXIT POLL QUESTIONS

YES

NO

DON'T KNOW

1. Are you still thinking of buying or naming a star or other celestial object?

51%

46%

3%

2. Are you now aware that buying or naming a star or other celestial object is of symbolic value only?

94%

3%

3%

3. Do you still think buying or naming a star or other celestial object is a good idea?

54%

41%

5%

4. Do you think buying or naming a star or other celestial object is good value for money?

30%

67%

3%

5. Has this page helped you make a decision?

84%

13%

3%

6. Has this page provided you with the information you require?

89%

6%

5%

 


And there you have it, in the end it is up to the individual to make up their mind as to the rights and wrongs or naming or buying a celestial object. But at least by reading this the potential buyer is armed with some of the facts from an independent source.

Derek Haselden

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Derek Haselden & Solent Amateur Astronomers 2020