Wait, You Can Buy Stars Now?

Did you know over 10,000 stars are visible from Earth with the naked eye? Then you should also know that there are ways that you can have a sphere of glowing plasma of your very own.  These are commonly called gift stars.

You’ll want to know what it’s going to set you back if you’re looking to buy one and have it named after yourself or someone you love, right? Before you go jumping in and investing your hard earned cash on celestial objects however, you should know that there are a few catches. These mostly relate to how official your ownership claim really is.

First of all, official names of any objects in space must be agreed upon by a collection of astronomers known as the International Astronomical Union, or IAU. They are the recognized authority who designate names to stars, asteroids and planets, as well as features on them (like mountains and valleys). The vast majority of stars end up with names that are no more than a string of letters and numbers.

Can A Star Officially Be Mine?

Without going into the finer points, the chances of the IAU officially naming anything in space after you are astronomically slim, even if you are the first to discover it. An exception to this rule is new comets, which they will happily name after you.

So how much does it cost to buy one of these stars? The price can vary depending on where you buy from and what you get, so there is no single answer, but let's keep things simple.

It doesn’t cost that much, actually. Even as low as around $27 USD.

So Where Does That Leave Me?

Now for some good news. There are a few companies worldwide that maintain their own database of celestial bodies and associated names. You could think of them as a global registry, like a phone book for stars. The most prominent of these is the International Star Registry, though there are some other options, such as Name A Star Live and the Online Star Register. They will all say their database is more official than others, but in reality they're mostly the same.

Stars you could own
Credit: Pixabay.com

By The Numbers

As an example, at the International Star Registry you have three starter options to pick from. A certificate and personalized sky chart showing where your star is located (and instructions to track it down with a telescope), plus a booklet on astronomy comes as standard. Of course you’ll also be entered into their registry and the plasma sphere will be yours and yours alone (well, according to the registry). Typically, prices are as follows:

  • Custom – Around $54.00
  • Deluxe – Around $110.00
  • Ultimate – Around $155.00

There are some extended options such as stars for couples, stars as heirlooms, stars for siblings and other family members, and even engraved star lockets. And there’s more good news; the largest online catalog (called the Guide Star Catalog 2) contains more than two billion objects, so chances are they’ll not be out of stock.

Do I Actually Own Anything Now?

Well, you own a certificate and a sky chart for starters - that is if you opted to buy your gift through the one of the registries listed above. But do you have any official rights to the star in terms of ownership of resources or airspace? Can you have airspace where there's no air? Sorry, not so much. Officially you own that star no more than you own a tree down the street that you named after your cat.

So while purchasing a star as a gift may be a nice and somewhat gimmicky gesture, it’s never going to be anything that you or anyone else you know can tangibly use. It's akin to paying for and naming a pet rock. It may be better to simply invest in a telescope and name a star for free, which you can do outside this evening. Happy sky-gazing!

Celestron 21035 70mm Travel Scope
Amazon Price: $113.95 $75.99 Buy Now
(price as of May 27, 2014)
One of the best small telescopes on the market, and perfect for the mobile astronomer.

Fraser Cain Explains Naming A Star