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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Thought You'd Wanna Know
Don't Name a Star After Someone
In fact, you really can't. Yes, you pay $50 to $100 or more to get your "star name" in a book that's registered in the U.S. Copyright Office. But anybody can get put names in a book and copyright it.

"The name-a-star organizations are nothing but money-making shams, and no astronomer would recognize names given in this way," says Brian Marsden of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

"No individual or group other than the International Astronomical Union is authorized to name stars," says IAU vice president Robert Williams, a researcher with the Space Telescope Institute in Baltimore. "Anyone who claims the right to name stars after people is pulling the wool over your eyes."

Worse, chances are your star is so faint you'll never see it -- unless it's also been assigned to lots of other people. Visible stars number only in the thousands, while customers of the half-dozen or so star-naming enterprises may total a million, one web site estimates.

Craters on Mercury are named for people -- after they've died. Asteroids have been named for the living -- by astronomers. Discover a comet and you can put your own name on it. But only a few stars, such as Barnard's star, were named for people -- "the astronomers who studied them and established that importance," says Marsden.

So save your cash. If it's too late, well, your heart was in the right place. But as a true gesture of cosmic thoughtfulness, wouldn't it be nicer to name a charitable contribution after someone?


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