Imagine a perfect gift for your loved one: a real star in the sky! Named after your life partner, purchased and certified. How convenient it is that there are so many agencies selling stars! But wait, why will they not show your star at the local observatory? And why not find that precious name in a star directory or a stargazing app? The sad truth is that it is not at all possible to own or name a star for money – let’s discuss why.
Can I buy a star?
No, you absolutely can not† There is no commercial star registration. No star catalog, local observatory or person affiliated with the scientific community would recognize your rights to a star. As the 1967 Outer Space Treaty proclaims, outer space will be the domain of all mankind and will be explored for the benefit of all nations, not one government or one person. So you can only waste your money on worthless fancy paper. Only the organization that sold you a star is likely to recognize your rights and keep the star in its own internal catalog. But even that is only safe for the old ‘reputable’ companies (some of whom claim to have been selling stars since the 1970s).
Can I buy a star’s name?
It is also not possible to buy the name of a star. The International Astronomical Union is the only institution that has the right to name celestial bodies. And the IAU’s position on this is clear: “As an international scientific organization, the IAU completely distances itself from the commercial practice of ‘selling’ fictitious names of stars, surface details or real estate on other planets or moons in the solar system. “There are ways to name a celestial object, we’ll tell you more about that later, but this can under no circumstances be exchanged for money†
Can I adopt a star?
You can in a way† Some non-profit organizations suggest that you “adopt a star”, which means you make a donation for research into certain celestial bodies. You still will not find your name in official directories, and you will not actually own a star, but you will get a star certificate for your own pleasure, and the star will be marked in the organization’s internal database in Google Sky. The real benefit is that you contribute to science. In addition, the cost of these organizations for this type of service is much lower, which is also a way to fight dishonest companies.
But can I name a star if I really want to?
You can, if you want to, but it’s probably not worth paying for it.
Is it legal to name a star?
No law forbids renaming anything as long as you do not use trademarks or insults. That’s why a star here is no different than a cat, a toy or a rock, but again – no official astronomical organization will recognize your ‘naming rights’† Then you might as well make and print your own star card.
How much does it cost to name a star?
If you really want to buy a decent piece of paper with your name on it, you can, but without any legal validity – the price starts at € 10.
How do stars officially get their names?
The International Astronomical Union assigns names to stars recognized and used by the scientific community worldwide† The final decision on a name is always up to the IAU, but they call for public naming of celestial bodies such as planetary satellites, newly discovered exoplanets and their parent stars. Names can be selected through public naming campaigns (such as NameExoWorlds), but all must strictly follow the IAU naming guidelines.
Designations for stars
Star designations are alphanumeric and are now assigned automatically by computers. For the stars discovered long ago, scientists use names from the recognized star catalogs. The best known are the Bayer Catalog and the Flamsteed Catalog, published in 1603 and 1725. The stars listed in several catalogs can be referred to by different names.
Stars with proper names
Proper names are given only to the brightest stars of great cultural, historical, agricultural or scientific significance. For example, the star HR 2491 is also called Sirius, and we know the star HR 424 as Polaris. The IAU Working Group on Star Names collects the old star names used in different cultures. The purpose of this is to preserve cultural diversity while making it easier to locate, describe and discuss any celestial body in any language. However, this is a long process and some traditional names still need to be approved.
Stars named after people
In addition to these ancient names, the IAU can name a star after a historical figure, although this rarely happens. For example, three famous stars are dedicated to humans:
- Cervantes (Mu Arae). Named after the Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes.
- Copernicus (55 Cancri A). Named after the astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus.
- Cor Caroli (‘Heart of Charles’ – Alpha Canum Venaticorum). Named after King Charles I of England.
If you discover a celestial body yourself, you are more likely to name it, but you still need to follow the naming rules. If you want to dedicate a celestial body to yourself, then discover a comet. These are usually named after individual discoverers or institutions. One of the most recently discovered comets, C / 2021 A1 ‘Leonard’, was named after its discoverer, the American astronomer Gregory J. Leonard.
Conclusion: Is it a good gift to name a star after someone? Not if you want to give a real gift, instead of a fancy piece of paper. If you still want such a certificate, you can “adopt a star” through a non-profit astronomy project. But if you really like stars, buy a telescope or download one of the free stargazing apps. They do not put your name where it does not belong, but they help you learn the real names, locations and further details of the infinite universe.
Let all the stars shine for you!