When you wish to name a star...

It's the holidays, and with their imminent arrival comes the eternal question: what should I get them this year? Companies know this, and begin the drive for people to get that special someone in their lives something that will mean so much to them even after the holidays. One company sells the ability to name a star in someones honor for $50. They'll send you a certificate, and will send you a copy of the catalog which will be registered in the US copyright office, and will last for years to come. While it's probably a legit business, it in fact is a meaningless gift, and preys on peoples ignorance of astronomy. Here's my reasons for hating this service:

  1. Astronomers use many different catalogs for their work. The most notable are the Messier (M stars) and the NGC catalog. You could create your own observable star catalog if you wanted to, and publish it. It's not going to change the names in the astronomer catalogs one bit. You won't hear some astronomer talking about the supernova that occurred right next to the star now known as Aunt Betty. And even if it the astronomers would willingly change their catalogs in the interest of the public at large, what hellish torment would be wrought upon the scientific comunity when they referred to a star, and had to give a last name to distinguish it from the other Aunt Bettys out there. (Is that Aunt Betty Neidermeyer, or Aunt Betty Smith 23)?
  2. It's registered in the US Copyright Office. This is the part that gets me the most. Folks, this line is added to give this sham an air of authenticity. I could scribble something on a napkin and get it registered in the US copyright office if I'm willing to take the time, effort, and money to do so. It lends no legitimacy to what I've written, and only ensures that the US government is giving me legal rights to protect my napkin from unauthorized copying. That's all.

So please, don't fall for this scam in thinking you're giving your loved ones something special. If you really want to give the astronomer in your life something precious that will last a lifetime, then learn about light pollution and how it's killing the night sky for all of us. Organize your neighborhoods and cities to reduce light waste. They'll remember that for years to come.