Name a Star; Buy a Star.... Buyer Beware!

Monday, August 15 2005 @ 07:10 am EDT

Contributed by: bobmoody

Can a STAR be Sold?
Can a STAR be Named?
Before you "buy a star" OR "name a star", understand what it is you're buying. Stars are not "named" or "sold" and the companies and/or individuals that advertise to an unsuspecting public that they can "buy" or "name" a star do so with the utmost incredulity.

The MOST outrageous thing I've ever seen in the hobby of amateur astronomy, is the buying or naming of stars for profit. There are places in the world, be they so-called "companies" or individuals, that will SELL anyone a star for a price. They know full well that they can't actually sell stars, and for an unsuspecting public that doesn't understand any better, it's caveat emptor....BUYER BEWARE!

Amateur astronomers around the world have encountered the problem involving the "sale" of stars. Stars are NOT sold, nor are they named for people or by people. The stars in the sky do carry one or more designations assigned by institutions that are recognized as having the ability to do this. Astronomers and astrophysicists establish the criteria for assigning different designations to stars through an organization known as the International Astronomical Union, and the entire world of professional Astronomy and Astrophysics accepts these legitimate designations.

Many of the brighter stars in the sky do have names. Accepted star names are either Greek, Arabic, or Latin in origin. Let's take for instance, the star Mizar in the constellation of Ursa Major. Mizar is the middle star in the handle of the Big Dipper, which is an asterism. An asterism is an easily identifiable group of stars which resemble something familiar. The seven stars of the Big Dipper are just the brightest of all the stars that comprise the complete constellation of Ursa Major, which depicts a large bear. Consider all the following things that involve the star Mizar and its many proper designations.

Mi 'zar is an Arabic word which translates to "girdle" as in the middle of the handle. Many stars in the night sky have Arabic names, and that's another complete story altogether. But Mizar has other official designations, such as Zeta Ursae Majoris (latinized version of its Bayer* designation), HIP 65378** (its designation in the Hipparchos catalog), and a few others. All these designations are different ways of referring to the exact same star, the star that resides at 13h 23' 55", by +54d 55' 31.5" on the celestial sphere. These coordinates may be considered extensions of map coordinates that depict latitude and longitude on a world map.

The catalogs mentioned above (and others not mentioned) are official catalogs which, in their own ways, have further refined the exact locations of virtually every star in the sky visible with modern amateur telescopes. One particular catalog not mentioned above is the Hubble Guide Star Catalog, comprised of nearly 20 million individual stars down to a certain magnitude, or brightness, that requires a telescope of moderate to large dimensions, i.e. one of around 18" diameter of aperture or more just to see. This particular catalog is used to help Hubble Space Telescope find and accurately track any object in the universe that it is meant to see. As one can easily see, there are a LOT of different ways of officially "naming" or designating a particular star. NONE involve fly-by-night companies that "sell" stars to be named for loved ones either living OR dead.

This is specifically where the reason for this story arises. Since there are companies (actually individuals) who will "sell" you a star to name as you choose for whatever purpose you desire, then someone should help you make a well informed decision before you send the payment. Such practices are NOT official, and are a literal scam in every sense of the word. The problem is that these companies do not try to inform you that the stars they'll sell you are NOT officially renamed. The buyer is led to believe that some star in the vast firmament is actually renamed for some buyer's relative, or their sweetheart, or for the "Employee of the Month" or whatever.

In the past three years, I've been asked on three separate occasions to help someone find "their" star in the night sky. They sent me a set of coordinates that designated which star was theirs and asked if we could find it and show it to them with our telescopes. In one case, the star was "named" as a couple's "Love Star", meant to always signify the love they have for one another. It's a lovely thought, isn't it? But the other two were stars that had been "named" for infant children who had succumbed to some disease or deformity shortly after birth. In these cases, the parents chose to have a star in the sky "named" for their loved one which would signify their loss to all the world, and in these cases I find this practice to be particularly hideous. I had to bite my lip while writing back to the couples that they had been taken advantage of, and that there was no star in the sky that actually carries the name of their lost child. I can only imagine the heartbreak that they must have felt after my reply.

But here was my dilemma; I could either keep my mouth shut, use the coordinates they'd been given to show them a very dim and insignificant star residing in the outskirts of some obscure constellation and play along with the scam, or, I could be the one to tell them that they had been taken advantage of. If I had played along with the scam, I'd have been as guilty as the perpetrators in setting up this couple for their future disappointment when they would likely find out from someone else about this scam later on. Yet, when I informed them of their situation, I felt the deepest regret that I had caused them this grief all over again. The best thing I could do, I decided, was to write such a story as this and try my best to help others to NOT make the same mistake. If I can inform others who might be considering this as something they want to do, then maybe I can save someone else the disappointment in the future.

There have been attempts to stop these practices in the legal systems of the US and other countries. These attempts have failed. It seems that whoever can conceive of such a scam and give the slightest bit of a hint that the "buyer" isn't really getting what they're buying, it's legal to do so. In this case, the advertisements for these companies announce that the star you are "buying" will be designated in THIS company's registry as being YOUR particular star. The "official" designation is a part of THEIR registry, which is NOT authentic. Anyone can claim such a thing. They further lure you in by stating that your star's designation will be recognized in a BOOK that is intended to list ALL the stars that are "bought" by everyone throughout the world, at some future date! ANY future date!For that matter, if they NEVER publish such a book, who would really care? If anyone really pushes the question, then they might actually publish such a book. But how would it be published? Would they simply take their computer files, organize their information in the simplest of ways, print out a copy for whoever is demanding that they finally SHOW them the book they've been led to believe will be published, and call that good? I can assemble the four or five sheets of paper that this story would require and staple them together and call that my book, and I'd have that right to do so. Believe it or not, any court in the world would stand behind them! That's all they'd have to do. All the millions of dollars that their unsuspecting customers had given to them is simply lost. The "buyer" was gullible enough to buy into the scam, and that's that. You should have done a little more homework and then made a more enlightened decision. No one FORCED you to buy what you bought, you did it of your own free will.

Now for another real kicker. This story that you are reading can be claimed by that company to be hurtful to their ability to scam you out of your money, and with all those millions of dollars at stake, they can hire a big-time lawyer or law firm and stop me (or at least TRY to stop me) from warning you about this situation. It would be the utmost folly to think that these companies or individuals couldn't, or wouldn't, do such a thing. While the local press would likely FINALLY jump in on this situation with both feet firmly on my (and YOUR) side after this had happened, they might not lift a finger to help you learn about this scam before that point. I can only HOPE that someone would help spread the word before anyone else gets the disappointment from learning that their $40, $60, or even $80 to as much as $100 "investment" was just plain lost because they didn't know any better. I simply can't hold this back and keep it to myself any longer. I HAVE to tell everyone, NOW!

If you want to read more about how others have tried to spread the word about these situations as I have, click on any of the links I've listed below. There are others out there who've also had their fill of seeing people being lured into these scams, and have tried to tell their own versions of why we should all be more aware of this particular scam. Check them out...all of them...and you'll begin to see that this is a worldwide scam. There are MANY others besides the ones I've listed, too. The low dollar amounts involved will likely never be classified as something worth making any noise about. But what price do we put on people's disappointment? What price must be paid that's just enough and gets the attention it deserves to make the local news broadcasts and publications? What will it finally take to get the public to listen, and understand? That's what must happen out of all this. I have to find some way to make you aware of this, and to make you really take notice and care. Has my story even come close to doing so? I can only hope that it did, and that everyone will at least think the next time they consider "buying" or "naming" a star.

*Johannes Bayer assigned stars a Greek letter designation according to their level of brightness, with the brightest star being called "alpha" the next brightest "beta", and so on through the rest of the Greek alphabet.

**Hipparchos Catalog - compendium of 118,218 selected stars down to magnitude 12.4 with positions measured to an accuracy of 0.001"

International Astronomical Union

The Culprits: (although BY NO MEANS a complete list)

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