Every year a few of our little star dome visitors proudly tell us that their parents bought them a star (i.e. paid to name a star after the child) when they were born. Although it sounds beautiful, sadly it is not true. There are indeed commercial companies offering you “to name a star (visible in your area) after someone special”. Unfortunately those companies have nothing to do with the International Astronomical Union, the organization responsible for naming astronomical objects. Therefore if you pay to name a star, you WILL get a fancy certificate, that name WILL appear on that company’s list, but the scientific community will NEVER accept it. And another such company, with their own list, will probably sell the same star to somebody else.
How much does it cost to buy a star?
The UK based company we looked up “sells” standard stars for £17.99, extra bright stars for £27.99 and binary stars (obviously a popular package for weddings and anniversaries) for £54.99. If you want a fancy gift pack prepare to pay £39.99, £49.99 and £79.99 respectively. Please don’t be deceived by the official look of those companies websites. Remember: you cannot buy a star!
So how do stars get their names?
Stars usually get alphanumeric designations (yes, that boring combination of letters and numbers) in star catalogs. A few hundreds of the brightest stars have proper names as well, usually historical names or the names of their discoverers.
One of the most historically significant star atlases was published by the German astronomer Johann Bayer in 1603. Bayer cataloged stars seen with a naked eye in the following way: he assigned each star in each constellation a lower-case letter from a Greek alphabet, followed by the name of the constellation. According to his classification,“alpha” was the brightest star in the constellation, “beta” was the second brightest etc. The original Bayer’s atlas included about 1200 stars. Later other astronomers improved and extended Bayer’s catalog.
Modern star catalogs include hundreds of thousands of stars. A star in a catalog is identified by its unique designation, i.e. the combination of letters (they refer to the survey) and numbers, and the star’s coordinates. The same star will have different designations in different catalogs.
Readers further interested in star catalogs might want to start their research with timeline of astronomical maps, catalogs and surveys.
For centuries people looked up at the night sky and referred to the brightest stars and other objects they saw by the names they invented. It is no surprise than that the same stars had different names in different cultures! We still use many of those traditional names today. Although to avoid the confusion astronomers had to choose out of the very many names those that were the most historically significant or the ones widely used by the astronomical community. You will find the full catalog of star names here.
Who gets to decide how to call stars?
International Astronomical Union is an organization that includes about 13 000 professional astronomers from all over the World. Part of the job of the Union is to decide on the names of the celestial bodies, such as stars, exoplanets and galaxies. A special IAU committee called Working group on star names is responsible for naming stars!
The sky is free and the stars are for everybody to enjoy! So
- Step outside in the evening and watch the stars!
- Visit our inflatable dome and learn about stars and constellations using our special interactive night sky!
- Try our favorite app SkyLive and explore the sky with their virtual planetarium. Or use the SkyLive information about location and visibility of the celestial objects to plan your very own observations.