Maybe you’re looking for a unique bucket list idea. Or maybe another anniversary, birthday or a gift-giving holiday rolls around again, and you find yourself in a state of terror trying to come up with a great gift to give someone. As you contemplate the possible ways to outdo–or at least reach an equal level of awesomeness—your previous gifts to that person, a thought pops in your head: “How about I register to name a star after them?”
Buying a star?!?! What a neat idea! Or is it, really? Instead of being a cool holiday present or sentimental good-bye gift, what if owning a star is just corny and silly? And is it even a legit gift to give? Having gone through the same thoughts as you, I did some research on the topic, and below is the information and answers I can give to you, both on the process of how to name a star and how much it costs (FYI: it’s not free!), plus whether it’s a suitable gift or goal for your life list.
Can You Really Name a Star After Someone or Yourself?
There are multiple different sites online that offer star naming services, all you need to do is some simple googling around. However, as simple and affordable as it is, the star’s name actually does not officially change to your loved ones, though they will get a neat little certificate out of it. Sadly, apart from a certificate of registry where the star is named after them, and the archive of the company the star was “bought” through, there will be no official record of it and the star’s name will remain as what an official astrologist has named it as.
So, no, although it is possible to name a star after someone, you cannot legitimately buy a star. IAU, which stands for The International Astronomical Union, has the sole right to truly name a star and there is actually a rather specific process behind that.
How are Stars Really Named?
In reality, stars have both names and designations, both of which are given to them by the IAU. Of course, many stars have already been discovered and named since the beginning of times and astrology, but in the present times the duty, and honor, lands into the lap of IAU.
It was during the Renaissance era that astronomers began establishing certain sets of rules and catalogues for how to name a star. One popular method was established by Johann Bayer, who decided to go the way of labelling each star in a constellation with lowercase Greek letters, in the order of the stars’ apparent brightness, with the brightest one labelled alpha, and so on. When this was deemed insufficient, Bayer’s solution to the problem was to introduce the Latin alphabets into the labelling process, in both lowercase and uppercase.
The second popular method that emerged is called the Flamsteed numbers. By following this method, the stars within a constellation are given a number based on their order of right ascension.
Today, new stars that are discovered are given an alphanumeric designation. Typically these stars are much fainter in brightness than those discovered already during the days of Bayer and Flamsteed. It’s also not uncommon for the same star to appear in multiple star catalogues and thus have several different designations.
There are also variable stars, which are stars that fluctuate in their level of brightness over time, mostly catalogued using the “leftover” letters from R to Z. Once those letters have been covered, if there are more stars like that in the constellation, the designations move onto two-letter names, like RR to RZ and so on.
As for supernovas, they get their letter designation from their name, becoming known as SN. The letters are then followed by the year the supernova occurred. So, for example, a supernova that occurred in 2020 would be designated as SN 2020. The year is followed by an uppercase letter, the supernova’s final designation becoming something like SN 2020A.
Although stars are first and foremost given a designation like this, they are usually also given an actual name. This is the job for Working Group on Star Names, comprising of astronomers from all over the world coming together to name each star, starting in the order of brightest and best-known.
One of the main tasks for this group is to solve the issues that have been brought on over the centuries, where some stars may have several names, some stars may have identical names to each other, and so on. Closely aligned with this is to decide on the spelling of each star, including some of the most famous ones in the sky that were still lacking an official decision on spelling, such as Sirius. The purpose of this is to ensure that each star gets to have a unique and official name.
If you are interested in exploring further, here is a list of star names and designations approved by IAU as of 1 June 2018.
Should You Name a Star Anyway?
Now that you know the real story behind how stars are named, should you even bother with the process to buy a star for someone, or even yourself? After all, you cannot officially name a star after the person you want to gift one to. They do not own it, and the star’s name is only that person’s on the certificate they receive and on the papers of the company you made the purchase through.
However, although not official, it can be seen as a gift that is showy and a bit corny, but also quirky, unique and full of special sentiment. So as long as you don’t see it as a good-bye to your money and it’s something you know the recipient would appreciate, why not?
. . .
Now that you actually know about what it takes to name a star, you can make a more educated decision on if it’s a gift you’ll ever want to give—or receive, for that matter. Is buying a star for someone a gift that, while perhaps silly in many ways, would be greatly appreciated by its recipient? Would you find it a romantic present, no matter how unofficial it may be? Or is it a total scam and naming the stars should be left solely to those with the qualifications to do it? At the end of the day, the responsibility of that decision lies on you and whether you believe the person you want to give it to would appreciate it. For me, it may just be the perfect under $50 present for the person who has everything, but then again, so would this custom celestial map.
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