Star Names
by Don Ware
The Peoria Astronomical Society
Peoria, Illinois

Guidelines for Star Naming

In response to numerous inquiries on the subject of purchasing star
names, the International Planetarium Society offers the following
information, as stated at their 9th Biennial Conference June 30, 1988
at the Science Museum of Virginia.

Selling Star Names

The star names recognized and used by scientists are those that have
been established through long- time usage or published by
astronomers at credible scientific institutions. The International
Astronomical Union, the worldwide federation of astronomical
societies, accepts and uses *only* those names. Such names are
*never* sold. Private groups in business to make money may claim to
"name a star for you or a loved one, providing the perfect gift for many
occasions." One organization offers to register that name in a Geneva,
Switzerland, vault and to place that name in their beautiful copyrighted
catalog. However official-sounding this procedure may seem, the name
and the catalog are not recognized or used by any scientific institution.
Furthermore, the official-looking star charts that commonly accompany
a "purchased star name" are the Becvar charts excerpted from the
Atlas Coeli 1950.o. While these are legitimate star charts, published
by Sky Publishing Corporation, they have been modified by the private
"star name" business unofficially.

Unfortunately, there are instances of news media describing the
purchase of a star name, apparently not realizing that they are
promoting a money-making business only, and not science.
Advertising and media promotion both seem to increase during holiday
periods. Planetariums and museums occasionally "sell" stars as a
way to raise funds for their non-profit institutions. Normally these
institutions are extremely careful to explain that they are not officially
naming stars and that the "naming" done for a donation is for
amusement only.

Official Star-Naming Procedures

Bright stars from first to third magnitude have proper names that have
been in use for hundreds of years. Most of these names are Arabic.
Examples are Betelgeuse, the bright orange star in the constellation
Orion, and Dubhe, the second-magnitude star at the edge of the Big
Dipper's cup (Ursa Major). A few proper star names are not Arabic.
One is Polaris, the second-magnitude star at the end of the handle of
the Little Dipper (Ursa Minor). Polaris also carries the popular name,
the North Star. A second system for naming bright stars was
introduced in 1603 by J. Bayer of Bavaria. In his constellation atlas,
Bayer assigned successive letters of the Greek alphabet to the
brighter stars of each constellation. Each Bayer designation is the
Greek letter with the genitive form of the constellation name. Thus
Polaris is Alpha Ursae Minoris. Occasionally, Bayer switched
brightness order for serial order in assigning Greek letters.

An example of this is Dubhe as Alpha Ursae Majoris, with each star
along the Big Dipper from the cup to handle having the next Greek
letter. Faint stars are designated in different ways in catalogs prepared
and used by astronomers. One is the Bonner Durchmusterung,
compiled at Bonn Observatory starting in 1837. A third of a million
stars are listed by "BD numbers." The Smithsonian Astrophysical
Observatory (SAO) Catalogue, the Yale Star Catalog, and The Henry
Draper Catalog published by Harvard College Observatory are all widely
used by astronomers. The Supernova of 1987 (Supernova 1987a), one
of the major astronomical events of this century, was identified with the
star named SK -69 degrees 202 in the very specialized catalog, the
Deep Objective Prism Survey of the Large Magellanic Cloud, published
by the Warner and Swasey Observatory.

These procedures and catalogs accepted by the International
Astronomical Union are the only means by which stars receive
long-lasting names. Be aware that no one can buy immortality for
anyone in the form of a star name.

(c) 1995 - 1998 Peoria Astronomical Society

This article used with permission from Mr. Ware.