Naming Your Star… Real or Rip-off?
One of my many hats is as the President Emeritus of a public observatory – helping people discover the wonders of the night sky. Stars are becoming more popular than ever.
On many occasions people have come into the observatory with a certificate and locater chart to help them find the star they named. Since the fourth century BC, mankind has been looking up at the heavens and assigning names to the stars. Nearly 2400 years later, we’re still doing the same thing. Is the process recognized by the science community? Can you really name a star after someone?
Master Shi Shen and Lord Gan were ancient Chinese astronomers/astrologers who began compiling their own star catalog roughly around the height of Greek civilization. Although the catalog was small, time would march on and others would begin their own process, such as Timocharis and Hipparchus. By the second century BC, Ptolemy had leaned heavily of the work of Hipparchus and “Almagest” – a catalog of 1022 stars – became a standard for over the next thousand years. But what they lacked… was a system.
In 1603, an astronomer named Johann Bayer published what would eventually become a standard known as the Uranometria. Using Greek letters and listing over 1200 stars, it quickly was seized upon by the science of astronomy and Bayer designations are still widely recognized to this day. Enter John Flamsteed, who also created a standard numerical stellar catalog which designated 2554 stars.
Much like his predecessor, Flamsteed’s numbers were widely adopted and incorporated where no Bayer designation existed for a particular star. The use of both Bayer and Flamsteed star names are the backbone of many charts and maps still used to this very day.
As time progressed, so did mankind’s ability to see ever farther and deeper into space. Astronomical catalogs began to flourish and expand. The Henry Draper Catalog published between 1918 and 1924, lists more than 225,000 of the brightest stars, named using HD followed by a 6-digit number.
The satellite driven Hipparcos catalog lists a little more than 118,000 stars and the Tycho catalogue lists a little more than 1,050,000 stars down to magnitude 7.3.
The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Star Catalog (SAO) takes it down to ninth magnitude and the Astrographic Catalog to magnitude 13 and over 4.6 million stars.
W here Does It End?
What all this amounts to is a specific, data driven need for a specific listing of stars for specific purposes. Astronomical catalogs are usually the result of an astronomical survey of some kind, and frequently contain data from other catalogs as well. So where does it all end? Probably never. As we delve deeper into our Universe we uncover more than ever dreamed possible and all of those stars need a name. The same object can be given different designations in many different catalogs. It’s only the biggest, brightest stars that have more agreed names.
As an visual astronomer, I am often called upon by strangers who come to me with packets and questions on how to name a star. Contained within these packets is information of where someone who wants to buy and name a star for a loved one – a common practice and one that’s often perceived as a rip-off by the scientific community.
Oh, I’ve read some very scathing articles about this practice, and the bottom line is: Only the International Astronomical Union (IAU) has the right to officially name celestial objects for scientific purposes. (Coincidentally, the same group of people who also decided that Pluto should no longer be a planet.)
But what if you’re not a scientist? Do these stars that you pay to name actually exist and can they be seen? The answer is yes. A reputable company that lets you buy a star name (choose carefully!) provides you with a certificate, a locater chart, and a set of coordinates. In the long run, these coordinates are far more important than any name or designation will ever be. The very fact that they do point to a specific star answers loudly the question as to whether or not it is legitimate. Even if it’s an 11th magnitude point of light set in a field of hundreds of others, the fact exists that it is there.
When you buy a star for someone, you are paying for the entertainment you will receive for learning a little about the night sky. If the agency is misleading about what you’re getting in any way, then you should rightly feel that you’re being scammed. But if they’re up front that the name isn’t official, and is only kept in their own catalog, you can know what you’re getting. (My recommendation for a company is the next story below)
Will science ever recognize that star?
No. If star Laurie Hoffman goes nova tomorrow, the IAU records will indicate that HD 178543, or a similar designation according to what catalog and epoch they choose to use, blew its top. Yet, the fact remains there is a record somewhere that lists the nova as star Laurie Hoffman. You are given a set of coordinates for your name a star and a star does exist at the point.
What’s my take on name a star? I see absolutely no harm in it IF you are given a set of coordinates, a star chart that matches those coordinates, and a certificate that let’s you know it’s for real in someone’s eyes. Sure. The chances of a novice ever finding a name a star on their own is slim. But at least they’re looking. If they come to me with a set of numbers, I have the knowledge to give them a sky survey picture of their star and to show them personally in a telescope. They are aware that there will be no arrow in the eyepiece pointing to the star they have named, no sign post or engraved plaque. It will be one in a field of many, but it will be there.
Believe me, folks… This is not a bad thing. Anytime you can motivate someone into taking a deeper look at what’s above them, you’ve accomplished something. If they can’t find it on their own? It doesn’t matter. It gave them an excuse to really take a look at the stars. If they have to list the aid of an observatory to locate their “name a star”, then they’ve been exposed to the wonderful world of astronomy. Star Laurie Hoffman might not ever be important to the scientific community…
But it is to you and me. (Tammy Plotner for Astro Space News)
Universal Star Registry – Name a Star
Introducing Our Sponsor
The Universal Star Registry is a superb independent star naming registry, where members of the public can name a star from any of 88 constellations. Customers can select a constellation and choose their new star name, and from that point on the star will forever be recognised and recorded by the Universal Star Registry as the new registered star name.
Name a star is the perfect gift for every occasion, and to help you make your gift absolutely right we have a guide to the meanings of each constellation shown on the website, and have a number of excellent packages.
Our Basic Packages register the star in your chosen name, and provide you with a certificate of registration complete with genuine wax seal, an introductory letter giving you information on your star including constellation and co-ordinates and a star information sheet all provided in a stunning presentation folder.
Our excellent Bronze package includes all of the above, and also contains an excellent star key ring, professionally engraved with your new star name, constellation and star’s co-ordinates.
The Silver Package contains a Silver plated paperweight engraved with the recipient’s name, constellation and the stars coordinates in place of the key ring and your certificate will be framed in a protective glass clip frame.
Our wonderful Gold package includes the engraved key ring, a silver plated certificate holder and a silver finish wooden frame for displaying your registration certificate.
The top of the range Diamond Package, provides you with the silver plated paperweight, the silver finish wooden frame and a wonderful Silver plated Your Name In The Stars Award engraved with the recipients name and star details.
As well as these excellent packages and gift options, our newest feature also allows you to track your star using Google Sky, just follow the simple instructions and you can view your star in its position in the night sky, together with our other registered stars. Visit our sponsor’s web page for an amazing variety of star-name gift ideas. Click HERE