Monday, May 28, 2007

Scam a Star after You (part One)



That "Name a Star after a Loved One" add on the radio annoys me.


Here's why.


The company,(which I'll call International AstroFraud Registry) probably chose their name because it sounds like the International Astronomical Union. The later determines the official star names, recognized by scientists around the world. AstroFraud's names are only recognized by AstroFraud.


Here's how Astrofraud works. You pay them some dough, give them a name, and they pick some faint star which


  1. Already has a name (which won't be replaced by yours)

  2. Is usually too faint to see with the naked eye

They give you a star map with "your" star circled on it, and the name is stored in a self-published book they crank out. For some extra money, you can buy the book. They have the nerve to brag:

"Because these star names are copyrighted with their telescopic coordinates in the book, [Our Self-Published AstroFraud Directory], future generations may identify the star name in [Our Self-Published AstroFraud Directory]and, using a telescope, locate the actual star in the sky."

As you probably guessed, no astronomer uses their book for a reference. You won't find it an any bookstore or planetarium gift shop either.

"So?" people tell me. "Why are you getting your binocular strap in a twist for? It's just for fun."

Here's why it bugs me.

  1. It's misleading. People think they're really naming the star when they're not
  2. It promotes ignorance. O.K., maybe it's not as stupid as Bigfoot or the Bermuda Triangle, but people shouldn't have bogus ideas about how stars are named.
  3. It's awkward for planetarium workers.

As this source explains:

Most observatories and planetaria, for example, get calls or visits from people wanting to see the star they "named". Of course, the institution could refuse to help them and just tell the truth, ("Sorry, this certificate is in no way valid. No private company has the authority to name stars.") but what if the star was "named" for a dead child? Suddenly, one is placed in the position of either telling them the truth and breaking their hearts, or going along with their request, showing them the star, not saying anything, and becoming silent partners with the star-namers. Many see this as an ethical dilemma. It can be quite upsetting to the astronomer who has to deal with it.
Sometimes the people who pay to have a star "named" think that astronomers or planetarians are somehow obligated to show them these stars, and become angry if they cannot be found. After all, if the star name is really "official," then the astronomer should be able to show it to you, right? Then one is placed in a different sort of uncomfortable situation. Sometimes nothing can be said or done to mollify such a deceived individual. See
this personal website for one such story.

There's another reason International AstroFraud Registry annoys me, but that's for another post.

In the meantime, maybe I'll start a "Rename a Celebrety for a Loved one" scheme. You'll get an 8x10 glossy of some B-list celebrity and your chosen name will be copyrighted along with his agent's fax number in our self-published directory...



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