Letter to the Editor

How about a unique celestial gift?

Tuesday, December 7, 2004

Planning to have a star named after you? Think again!

As the Christmas season quickly approaches, many shoppers are looking for the "perfect" gift.

Well, what is more perfect than naming a star after a loved one? After all, if a star was good enough for the Magi to lead them to the Messiah, wouldn't you like to have a star named after you?

One company does just that. For a mere $54 you can have a star named after you. In return, you receive a certificate with the location of "your star" and a note stating that it has been recorded in a copyright office!

The problem is that this company has no authority for naming stars and there are no professional astronomers, textbook publishers, writers, or any other entities in the world who will ever recognize "your star" in YOUR NAME! Another problem is that the stars that are available "for sale" are so faint; you can't find them unless you have a large telescope and a very accurate method for finding the location of the star.

Stars are officially named by the International Astronomical Union. This is a group of scientists and professionals who are directed to name new astronomical objects. Most of the newly discovered objects are given numbers and a few significant finds are named after their discoverers or other significant persons.

Other than the IAU, names given to astronomical objects by any other entities have no authority or validity.

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.

True, the "gift" of a star may open someone's eyes to the beauty of the night sky. This is indeed a worthy goal, but it does not justify deceiving people into believing that real star names can be bought like any other commodity."

(From IAU web site found at:http://www.iau.org/IAU/FAQ/starnames.html).

So, instead of buying a star for $54, why not spend it on something that will have real worth to you or a loved one with respect to astronomy?

For example, for $54, you can buy a decent pair of binoculars that would allow you to enjoy the moon and its splendor, the Pleiades star cluster, the 4 Galilean moons orbiting Jupiter and much more.

Or, how about visiting a local planetarium or observatory and asking to see a favorite star or constellation?

Then you can go home and make your own certificate!

--Hurd is planetarium director and professor at Edinboro University in Pennsylvania. He is a former McCook Junior High teacher.

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