Scams · August 24, 2005

Star Registry

When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires will come to you


If your heart is in your dreams, no request is too extreme
When you wish upon a star as dreamers do

Disney’s Pinocchio
Lyrics: Ned Washington


I’ve been hearing the company, International Star Registry advertise during the Tom Martino show on a daily basis. (Of all broadcasters, Tom Martino should certainly know better! – Maybe it is just a local thing?)

The International Star Registry advertises that for $54 you can have a star named after yourself, or after anyone else you like. Their Gift Package includes a certificate and telescopic coordinates of the star itself. You can also purchase framed ‘star kits’ for up to $139!

The main page of the Star Registry web site says that the star name is copyrighted, along with the telescopic coordinates, in a book called “Your Place in the Cosmos.” Wow!

So, does this mean that everyone in the world will need to call the star by it’s new name? Your name? What about astronomers?

Uhm, no.

As astronomer Dr. Phil Plait points out in his debunking book, Bad Astronomy; there is an organization called the International Astronomical Union (IAU) that is in charge of giving celestial objects their ‘official’ names. There are rules for naming stars, planets and other astronomical objects. The community of astronomers follow the rules in the IAU, and are unconcerned about what anyone else might call a star.

IAU names are usually not very sexy – they usually they are just a catalog number and a set of coordinates – but this is considered a sufficient ‘name’ by astronomers. Astronomers are actively opposed to giving individual names to stars because it would make their work more difficult.

So maybe the International Star Registry is naming stars that aren’t in the official catalog yet? ‘New’ stars? Yea, right, and if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you!

There are only about 10,000 stars that are visible to the human eye from the surface of Earth. More stars are visible with telescopes. Even more are visible with large telescopic array. So far, any star that can be seen with a conventional telescope has already been given a name. As soon as an astronomer identifies a new star he names it in accordance to IAU convention. So unless International Star Registry has another Hubble Telescope in orbit their chances of discovering a new, unnamed star are pretty slim.

But they say that the star name is Copyrighted! That means something important right?

No again! It means that the public does not understand copyright! They are copyrighting a book called, Your Place in the Cosmos,” which is just a creative work. This only means that the public is not allowed to duplicate this book without permission. Registering a copyright costs only $35 per application, and requires submitting two copies of the book to the Library of Congress. Anyone who has the text and the money could do the same.

So what’s the harm here? A company makes someone happy by selling a nice framed certificate of a named star, they even sell the coffee-table book Your Place in the Cosmos, so their customers can look up their named star and find it in the heavens. There’s no harm to this, right?

Wrong. Stars names are often bestowed by grieving family to commemorate a deceased family member. After all, the star will always be there to remind them of their loved one, right? Then astronomers are asked by grief-striken family members to point out their loved one’s star, only to be told that it doesn’t exist. Or, if the scientist in question has pity on the family, he will swallow his ire and point his telescope at a random star and let the family peek at it..

Robert Martino is an astronomer who has in the past spoken out against star naming companies such as Intenational Star Registry, calling the company a, (gasp!) “SCAM!” Unfortunately for Dr. Martino, ISR has deep pockets and a willingness to sue, so as of today, almost all mention of ISR being of less than honorable intent has been scrubbed from the Internet. Dr. Martino has been effectively silenced by lawsuit.

Unlike the evil Dr. Martino, *I* would never call the practices of International Star Registry a scam! ISR provides exactly what they say they will provide, namely a handsome certificate (possibly framed) and a name in a book stored in the exhalted Library of Congress. If you would like this great joy and honor, then I would recommend that you send your hard earned cash to ISR immediately! I would never suggest that anyone could achieve a similar effect by creating a nice certificate – suitable for framing – on their personal computer.

It is a good thing for International Star Registry that no other star naming services exist to diminish the value of their service. Such a company might name stars with no regard to the name officially given by ISR!

I’ve come to realize that I’m just too damn honest to make myself rich.