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NAMING & BUYING STARS
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW

Updated 25th June 2005

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Naming and buying stars - what you should know...

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INTRODUCTION
An enquiry that is often 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. Judging by the amount of people who have already seen this page (over nine thousand) it is clear that many people are at least curious!

The naming and selling of celestial objects has been going on for several years but it is only in the last few years that enquiries have been directed to myself and the Society on a regular basis. Similar enquiries are also frequently 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, this page is an attempt to inform you about some of the facts about buying or naming a star (or any other celestial object for that matter) and in a more recent development, buying a part of the Moon or parts of the planet's Venus or Mars. Another scheme that has recently come to my attention is the 'opportunity' to 'buy' a galaxy! Hopefully, armed with the facts, you can make an informed choice before parting with any money.

I recently set up a survey form on this page to see what readers thought about the issue as well as what their intentions were. The results from that survey appear at the bottom of this page.

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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 will name a whole galaxy after you!

However, let me spell it out to you clearly...

And as for those who claim they can sell you a plot on the Moon... This is a hoax! 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 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 is not legally binding and should only be considered a novelty item.

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HOW MUCH WILL IT COST?
This varies, but naming a star will currently cost you something like £50 (about $80). Buying an acre on the Moon will cost you about £25 (about $40). The most recent celestial 'sale' is that of a whole galaxy - cheap at the price of only about £12.50 (about $20).

A while back I worked out that I could buy all the necessary bits (certificate paper, fancy parchment paper) and do the rest of the average 'star name' package on my computer. I already have a desktop astronomy program that will print attractive maps. Along with the necessary stationery (all available locally and at little cost) I could make up a 'star name' package and sell it to someone for about £5 (about $8). 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 £5 (about $8) per head my profit margin worked out at about 100%. Need I say more?

Based on the above figures it should not take you very long to work out that the companies that sell star names and the like will do very well out of you purchasing one of their products.

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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, along with a 'deed of ownership'. (Would it be too cheeky to suggest that potential buyers ask to view or visit their property before deciding to buy?)

I have personally seen one of the maps given to someone who had a star named for them - a printout from some desktop computer program with 'their' star marked with a Biro - I could do better myself! (See the last section.) And if I did one myself it would be just as 'official'. Like I said, anyone can name or buy a celestial object - done legally and honestly it will be just as official as anything that these 'companies' will sell you. But, remember what I said further up this page under the section "Who can officially name a star or other celestial object?"

One has to wonder 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? Perhaps the only thing that can be said with some certainty is that the purchase will be of some symbolic or novelty value, but so far as can be told, that's about all. It does seem that the novelty value of such a purchase or the sentimental naming of a star for a loved one has some clout.

But let us not slump into a comfy chair of sentimentality: it is a novelty, a gimmick that has absolutely no official 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 their money. 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 official in any way.

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 - do you really 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, spouse, lover, or whoever. Look up into the night sky and point to any bright star you like and then name it. If you do that with someone you are close to surely that is more meaningful than getting someone else to do it for you? It won't take you long, it'll mean just as much as if you had paid someone to name a star for you. But it won't cost you a penny!

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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, many of these names have stuck and are still in use today. But, given that there are thousands of stars visible to the naked-eye, and millions of stars that can only be seen with a telescope, no more names are alloted 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.

Nowadays, objects that are discovered, like a comet or asteroid, may be named after the discoverer or discoverers. Moons around other planets or features on the planet or moon have names given to them in accordance certain themes. But at the moment the only organisation that can officially name a star, celestial object (or other feature on it) 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 the global organisation to which 66 countries of significant astronomical input are members of. The IAU is also recognised by the United Nations. Astronomical data is forwarded, recorded and circulated to the IAU, and in this particular instance, objects named. As an astronomical organisation itself, Solent Amateur Astronomers Society is in full agreement with this official 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 is official and recognised in anything apart from their own records they are lying!

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WHAT DOES THIS MEAN THEN?
This means that only the IAU, by international decree, as recognised by most, if not all countries in the world, can officially name or number a celestial object; be it a star or whatever. 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 do that for you! In fact, 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 several companies that will name a star (unofficially, it is necessary to emphasise). Adverts for these companies can be seen in many publications, although of late the adverts (and other similar one's) seem to be appearing less often. Certainly, some of these companies have started to state that their naming service is symbolic only and has no official recognition. Well, there's honesty for you!

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. 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.

One final thing regarding a star naming company is that on their website they claim to use data compiled by the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) in 1983. It is worth noting that in fact 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 will have noticed by now that I have not mentioned who these companies are. The reason is quite simple: By naming them I give credence to their 'service'; by naming them I help you to find out who they are - I have no intention of doing either!

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, I am therefore unable to 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 balace. A product that will generally annoy fellow astronomers around the world. You might get to feel good into the bargain. But I'll get rich!

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OTHER PROBLEMS.
Star naming, as well as being unofficial and unrecognised, is also unregulated; There is nothing to prevent two different companies naming the same star and not 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 asert their right to that one star. (I would have loved to have sat in on that one!)

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 do not inform a buyer about the unofficial status of the naming. But they do try to imply official sanction by other means, such as listing in a National Library. But then I could have my latest telephone 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. 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' will be faint, well beyond naked-eye visibility, there is the challenge of finding the star and then the possible disappointment of seeing how insignificant it may be. 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.

So, 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 huge 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 privilage of showing you that object. The company selling the object has been paid though!

The buyer may be dismayed to find out that the name is unofficial and unrecognised. In most cases they may be unaware of this so diplomacy has to be used - it is difficult for anyone to be the bearer of bad news. I have personally been involved in several such awkward situations, 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 totally unaware that the star name they chose was unofficial, would not be recognised, and already had an official name, number and designation. Can you imagine how carefully I had to tread when discussing this with them?

Consider this: If I show a buyer the dim, insignificant speck in the sky (for that is surely what it will 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 to be at best questionable, at worst downright dishonest. 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 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 all it is, from one person to another. After all, naming a star for a loved one may certainly be regarded as a romatic 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...
It may be regarded that if star naming and the like could benefit both the buyer AND scientific bodies; AND be official and regulated, the practice may find favour within the astronomical community. Since this is not the case, the Society regards that the unofficial naming and selling of celestial objects could be seen as deceptive or fraudulent, meaningless even! So, before you go ahead and buy a star name or whatever, consider the alternatives...

If you want to make a romantic gesture what is wrong with a REAL gift? Chocolates, a card, a love letter, jewelery, 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 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 publication, a computer astronomy program, a pair of binoculars - something lasting and useful that will really fuel their interest in astronomy.

In conclusion, this practice 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.

You have been warned!

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.

Still not convinced? Think I'm making this up? Then check out the links below...

IAU statement

Royal Greenwich Observatory statement

http://home.columbus.rr.com/starfaq/

http://www.abarnett.demon.co.uk/ripoff.html

http://www.r-clarke.org.uk/naming_stars1.htm

http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a3_385.html

http://www.ras.ucalgary.ca/~gibson/starnames/isr_news.html

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

Lastly, what do people reading this page think of the issue? Well, now you can find out! Last year I started taking a survey from readers of this page who filled out the two on-line forms, one before reading the page, one after. The results of that survey are listed below.

NAMING ANG BUYING STARS, READER SURVEY.

The form at the top of the page, the 'Entry Poll', results are shown below. This is how readers responded before reading this page...

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%

Summary:

The form at the bottom of the page, the 'Exit Poll', results are shown below. This is how readers responded after reading this page...

EXIT POLL QUESTIONS YESNODON'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 unofficial and 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%

Summary:

  • Having read the page just over half the visitors were still considering naming or buying a star or other celestial object. But it would appear that the other half were having second thoughts having read the page.
  • The majority of readers were now aware that the 'naming' or 'buying' is unofficial and of symbolic value only, it is not scientific.
  • A little over half the readers now thought that 'naming' or 'buying' a celestial object was a good idea but just under one half thought not.
  • Two thirds of readers thought that 'naming' or 'buying' a celestial object was poor value for money.
  • Most found that reading the page had helped them make a decision and they had found the information they required.

On several fronts I am pleased with the results that have come back: It is clear that the majority of people have found this page via a search engine, in itself a success, and that they have found the information that they wanted and it has helped them make a decision. Moreover, it is evident from looking at the above survey results that some people have been put off making a purchase.

On the other hand it is clear that many readers visit the page with the intention of 'buying a star' and that many readers are not put off by what some others deem to be an overpriced product, nor the fact that 'naming' or 'buying' a celestial object is in reality meaningless - except to them or whoever it is intended for. I have to concede that there may well be many valid reasons for going ahead and making a purchase but at least one does so better informed.

But despite finding and apparently looking at this page many readers have still asked for information as to how to 'buy a star' - evidently missing the whole point of this page as well as not reading certain sections of it!

It must be said, like I have mentioned elsewhere up this page, that buying or naming a celestial object has a certain clout to it, it is just that when you look into it further you realise that it is somewhat hollow. But 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 the facts from an independent source - after all, I have nothing to gain or lose by telling you this.

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Derek Haselden & Solent Amateur Astronomers 2005