No, You Can Not Name a Star

The ads turn up everywhere. On the radio, in magazines, on the Web, in your e-mail box if you don't have a good spam blocker. And it's not just a big fat scam during the holidays.

But it is a big fat scam.

Wish you could name a star after yourself or a loved one? Of course you do. And there are no shortage of commercial star naming ventures trumpeting their services to tempt the star-struck among us (we know who we are) to pay for such a heavenly honor. But aside from a fancy certificate, a sky chart and bill for thirty, forty, fifty or more bucks, what does the local star peddler deliver? Is naming a star a stellar gift idea, or merely a celestial-sized scam?

Don't be fooled, Probe readers.
Astra nomen caveat emptor. In fact, no private company may lawfully claim jurisdiction over the naming of stars. Any number of self-proclaimed star registries or naming entities boast "official" status (not to mention celebrity endorsements) and apparently operate unfettered by consumer protection agencies. And although these vendors skillfully promote the illusion that purchased star names are valid, save your money.

The one and only international authority empowered to name stars, as well as other celestial bodies and the surface features on them, is the International Astronomical Union. And they're not selling any. In any case, astronomers, scientists, governments, educators and star-gazers recognize and rely on IAU assigned names and designations. So keep that twinkle, twinkle in your eye and pool your star dust for a gift in your loved one's name to charity. (Actually, Space Law Probe wanted to name a parallel universe after itself, but decided to save up for sports arena instead.)

The IAU's FAQ sets the record straight on naming stars, setting forth that purchased names of stars, star clusters or galaxies "have no formal or official validity whatever..." Same goes for "real estate" on other planets or moons in the Solar System. See also here is Jim Craig's comprehensive Star Naming FAQ.) For a hardcore look at naming, here is IAU's Designations and Nomenclature of Celestial Objects, IAU's Committee on Small Body Nomenclature, and the U.S. Geological Survey's Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature.

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