Monday, November 17, 2008

This Star Belongs to Me?

The heavenly aspirations of having a star or other celestial body named after you usually involve the rigmarole of an earthbound bureaucracy. Too much red tape to achieve celestial immortality?

By: Vanessa Uy

Many of you have asked previously about what it will take to name a star or other celestial body after your loved one or favorite Hollywood celebrity, porn star, musician or band – imagine an Earth-crosser or Earth-crossing asteroid named after Veruca Salt. This particular blog attempts to answer those pressing queries. Spoiler alert: It will cost you ungodly amounts of money.

For quite a while now, an Illinois based company called the International Star Registry – or others like it - had been frequently mentioned in various TV series’ story lines about how someone bought the naming rights of a newly discovered heavenly body after their cherished loved one. Sometimes at a price that’s beyond rational comprehension, imagine purchasing the naming rights of a heavenly body for 3,000 US dollars or more as a Christmas, Valentine’s Day, or Anniversary present as intangible as a celestial body named after you or your special someone.

Sadly, the worldwide astronomical community does not recognize celestial bodies named by the International Star Registry because the company is not the one legally and / or officially tasked to name heavenly bodies. After doing some research about what it takes to have a star or other heavenly and or celestial body named after you and your loved one is a truth that’s really stranger than fiction.

The international body that is assigned the task of naming existing heavenly and or celestial bodies that already exists and those that are yet discovered is the International Astronomical Union or IAU. Over the years, the IAU has been divided into various sub-bodies, teams, committees, and task groups due to the sheer number of celestial bodies that already exists and the ones that are continuously being discovered.

The last time I checked, Dr. Brian G. Marsden director of the IAU ’s Minor Planet Center at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge is probably one of the busiest of IAU ‘s “top brass”. Because as the head of the Minor Planet Center, asteroids – or minor planets as they are more properly called – is perhaps the celestial body that’s often named after famous and not so famous Hollywood celebrities. Which many tenured astronomers with prestigious university affiliations in the astronomical community often complain because most of these “celebrities” – although there are a few exceptions - haven’t worked in astronomy as an amateur or otherwise or who had no interest in astronomy whatsoever.

But still you can still have a celestial body – preferably an asteroid since there are still many that’s being discovered. To be named after you or your loved one / favorite musician / band / porn star, etc. that the International Astronomical Union will recognize with no strings attached, though it might still cost you several thousands of American currency. You can do this through a “legal loophole” via “research contributions” to professional asteroid hunters – i.e. paying them.

For example, if you have a six-figure sum burning a hole in your pocket – preferably close to a million in American currency, you could contact a professional asteroid hunter like Edward Bowell at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. Maybe you might have enough money as research contributions to allow him to bestow some of his yet unnamed newly discovered asteroids with the name of your choice. Like naming an asteroid after your favorite musician or “Rock Band”. Imagine people over 30 will now be forever grateful to you because you spend almost a million in American currency just to name asteroids after Mia Zapata, Lunachicks or Veruca Salt. Sorry to disappoint you guys, but naming asteroids after your favorite musicians, bands, or celebrities do cost ungodly amounts of money. Maybe Adam Carolla’s fans conducted a fundraiser to raise enough money to have his name immortalized in an asteroid. Check out Asteroid 4535 Adamcarolla, it's very faint considering the absolute magnitude that's a little over 12 or so.


Letiche said...

Paying exorbitant amounts of money to name an asteroid or other celestial body after yourself or your loveones through a commercial / corporate entity not recognized by the International Astronomical Union does raise that dreaded corpus possidendi issue.
I am also a fan of Mia zapata and the rest of the Gits, Veruca Salt, and Lunachicks. But don't forget us Star Trek fans / Trekkies.
The International Astronomical Union or IAU has recently approved a move to rename an asteroid located between Mars and Jupiter which was discovered back in 1994. Formerly known as 1994GT9, the IAU has now officially changed the asteroid's name to "7307Takei" in honor of George Takei of the Star Trek original Series' Hikaru Sulu.
Other asteroids renamed after Star Trek personalities officially by the IAU include "4659Roddenberry" in honor of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and "68410Nichols" in onor of Nichelle Nichols who played Lt. Uhura in Star Trek TOS. Out time has now come Trekkies, 2009 is designated as the International Year of Astronomy by the way.

Vanessa said...

Corpus Possidendi issues notwithstanding, the IAU's ruling on the naming of celestial bodies is by no means entirely based on hard science. But they do really know how to play the "Public Relations" game by appeasing us hardcore Star Trek fans / Trekkies. Because of this tactic, it makes me somewhat to be overly critical for the International Astronomical Union's dethronement of Pluto as a bona fide planet even though it is an injustice to the hard work of Clyde Tombaugh in discovering Pluto.