It’s hard, sometimes, being an expert in your field. I don’t speak from personal experience, obviously, but rather on the behalf of Australian astrophysicist Brad Tucker. In an opinion piece published today by the ABC, Tucker literally begs for people to stop asking him how to locate the stars they have purchased in honour of their beloved deceased relatives.
“About once a week,” Tucker writes, he is forced to “gently explain that the star name they bought is not officially recognised; that the star they want to look at in someone else's honour is not actually named in that person's honour."
Tucker is tired. Tucker has more important things to do.
“I don't want to be that person anymore,” he says.
Star registries, it would seem, are not only shitty boring gifts but also kind of scammy. Maybe on some level we all knew this, but now an expert is finally laying it all out in devastating detail.
According to Tucker, there are two prongs to the star-naming scam. Firstly, you’re not paying money to change the actual name of the star, because funnily enough the scientific community doesn’t create a whole new map of the galaxy every time someone makes a one-time payment of $19.95.
“If you read the fine print of many other companies they usually say that astronomers do not officially recognise the name of the star you just purchased,” says Tucker.
Even worse: it would appear that on this basis some star registries are getting away with selling the same stars to multiple people. Which means there are numerous stars out there with more than one fake name.
“In the span of one month, two entirely unrelated people contacted us to look at a star that they purchased. It was the same star. These two people had each paid to name the same star,” Tucker recalls.
If you really are hellbent on naming a star after yourself or a loved one, you’ll need to somehow persuade the International Astronomical Union (IAU) of your case. The IAU is literally the only body capable of doing what star-registration.com supposedly specialises in.
Or else just pick out a star and pretend. It has the exact same effect, and is arguably more special because you’re not funding an ethically-dubious industry that makes money from people mourning the deaths of beloved friends and relatives.
“You can also choose your own star, perhaps one that you looked at together, to think of a person,” Tucker thoughtfully suggests.