Name that Star

Quang Trang, MJLST Staffer

For space lovers out there, the opportunity to name a star after a loved one sounds like a nice romantic gift for Valentine’s Day. The issue of whether this is actually allowed is somewhere between yes and no.

The main authority in naming astronomical objects is the International Astronomical Union (IAU). The goal of the IAU when formed in 1919 is to “to promote and safeguard the science of astronomy in all of its aspect through international cooperation.” Part of the IAU’s authority in its scientific mission promoting and safeguarding astronomy is the duty of being “the arbiter of planetary and satellite nomenclature.” In normal English, the IAU is the organization that decided Pluto does not qualify to be a planet.

Although the IAU is the leading authority in astronomical nomenclature, the organization still refuses to commercialize outer space by selling the rights to name space objects, such as stars. Due to the IAU being an international scientific organization, it does not have the authority nor the interest in outlawing such a practice. There are many services that would allow you to pick an unregistered star and name it for a fee. However, these multiple services are unrelated and have different databases. Essentially, a star you named with one service may be already be registered under a different name with a different service. Prominent star-naming services such as the International Star Registry are aware of its unofficial status. Rocky Mosele of ISR said “I think people are OK that it’s not official. I’m sure of it. I know because customers call again and again and again.” The ISR’s claims to not mislead any of its customers because it never once claimed to be official.

With each registration costing as much as fifty dollars, one might ask why the IAU does not participate in such a business. The organization would be an industry leader with the ability to give these registered names official status. The proceeds could be used to fund various projects. After receiving many requests to from private individuals to name stars, the IAU explains its policy to stay out of such an enterprise: Thus like true love and many other of the best things in human life, the beauty of the night sky is not for sale, but is free for all to enjoy.

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