Everybody is a star

It usually comes earlier in than now — and perhaps did this year as well — but it wasn’t until yesterday that I heard my first International Star Registry commercial of 2009.

You know the outfit — they’re the people who say they’ll name a star after your aunt Bertha, your boyfriend or your yappy little dog; register it with the copyright office; and send you handsomely-mounted documentation.

Your name here

(Your name here)

What they don’t tell you, and probably should, is that it’s all for show. The International Star Registry has no more right to “name” astronomical bodies than I do. Or, for that matter, than you do.

The real names are determined by the International Astronomical Union, and they aren’t about to name a heavenly body after your girlfriend, even if she has one.

Here’s what they have to say about the whole thing:

Some commercial enterprises purport to offer such services for a fee. However, such “names” have no formal or official validity whatever: A few bright stars have ancient, traditional Arabic names, but otherwise stars have just catalogue numbers and positions on the sky. Similar rules on “buying” names apply to star clusters and galaxies as well. For bodies in the Solar System, special procedures for assigning official names apply, but in no case are commercial transactions involved.

As an international scientific organization, the IAU dissociates itself entirely from the commercial practice of “selling” fictitious star names or “real estate” on other planets or moons in the Solar System. Accordingly, the IAU maintains no list of the (several competing) enterprises in this business in individual countries of the world. Readers wanting to contact such enterprises despite the explanations given below should search commercial directories in their country of origin.

It’s a harmless enough charade, I guess, but intentionally misleading the public. And you aren’t going to hear any disclaimers on the radio commercials, and stations continue to run the commercials without qualification.

If you’re reading this, you’re smart enough to know the difference. But if anybody tells you that they’re going to put your name in the stars, you might want to show them this before they spend the money. A box of See’s candy costs less, and you can share it.