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The American Association of Amateur Astronomers

Frequently Asked Questions 

Can I Buy a Star or Have one Named?

Q: Can I buy a star, or have one named?
A: No.

Q: But I heard there were organizations that would do this for you. Isn't that true?
A: No. There are organizations that will take your money and send you a certificate, but those documents have no validity and are not recognized by anyone else.

Q: Come on! Why can't we do this, just for fun?
A: If it is "just for fun", you might as well save money and print out your own certificate. It will be just as valid.

Q: OK, I understand the practice is probably a "scam", but I have a special situation. A dying child has requested her own star, and how can we possibly refuse her?
A: That is a difficult case. In the end, we can either tell the truth ("I'm sorry, Dear, but it is just not possible") or lie and obtain a certificate. In the later case, there is still no reason to give money to a "star naming" agency. Finally, I would ask "How do children get such ideas, unless some adult suggests it to them?"


[The following was provided by Jim Craig <jccraig@OREGON.UOREGON.EDU>]

Q: Can I buy a star? What about the companies that claim that I can pay to have a star named after me or someone else?

A: Save your money. The various businesses that claim that you can have a star named after you or a friend are only going to separate you from your money. They might put your name in a database and they may send you a certificate that lists the coordinates of "your" star but it's no more official than having any individual name a star.

The names of astronomical objects are determined by the International Astronomical Union (I.A.U.). Usually, the only time an object is named after a living person is when that person (or persons) discover the object (e.g. Comet Levy was discovered by David Levy, the large proper motion of Barnard's Star was discovered by E.E. Barnard, etc.).

Planetary names come from Greek and Roman mythology. This is also true of the names of many planetary satelites, although some of the moons of Uranus were named after characters from Shakespeare.

Star names come to us via historical convention. Most of the stars that have individual names were named thousands of years ago and were first catalogued by Ptolomey in ancient Egypt. The names come from folklore, mythology and location (such as Polaris). All stars are also given a numerical designation based on the constellation in which they're found and their relative brightness. The brightest are given a Greek letter designation followed by the name of the constellation such as Alpha Centauri, Sigma Draconis, etc. After the last letter of the Greek alphabet (omega) is used, the remaining stars are given numerical designations followed by the constellation name such as 51 Pegasi, 38 Ursa Majoris, etc.

Craters and planetary feature names can have various origins. For example, the IAU has asked that the names of famous women (particularly in the sciences) be submitted for naming features on the surface of Venus that have recently been revealed by the Magellan probe.

The discoverers of numbered minor planets have the traditional privilege of proposing a name for their discoveries. Asteroids named after musicians Frank Zappa, Jerry Garcia and John Lennon were all named by sympathetic discoverers.

Objects that were named prior to the formation of the IAU will retain their names.

For more information on this function of the IAU, see the Royal Greenwich Observatory leaflet, "The Naming of Stars" at <http://www.ast.cam.ac.uk/RGO/leaflets/name/name.html>

If you feel you need to buy something astronomical for yourself or a friend, get a subscription to one of the astronomy magazines like "Astronomy" or "Sky and Telescope," a book, a planisphere or tickets to a planetarium show. In this manner, you can connect with the universe of astronomy and get some value for your money.

Other gift ideas:

  • Membership in the International Dark-Sky Association
  • Membership for a local Astronomy Club
  • Star Atlas
  • Astronomy computer programs
  • Eyepieces
  • A pair of binoculars

This document is archived at: <http://www.salamander.com/~wmcclain/buystar.html>

Bill McClain <wmcclain@netins.net> or <wmcclain@salamander.com>
<http://www.salamander.com/~wmcclain/>



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