International Star Registry
The International Star Registry (ISR) is a for-profit organization founded in 1979 for the purpose of giving the general public the novelty of unofficially naming stars. Products and services are often marketed as gifts or memorials. Packages sold by the company include framed and unframed certificates, personalized jewelry, plush toys, and pet rocks identifying "naming" of a star.
The International Astronomical Union (IAU) is the internationally recognized authority which designates stars, planets, asteroids, comets, and other heavenly bodies according to internationally accepted rules. The IAU does not sell naming rights nor does it authorize any other company or organization to do so. It does not recognize International Star Registry's right to name stars. The IAU cautions consumers that products and services marketed by ISR and other companies have no formal or official validity whatsoever. In fact with a few exceptions of ancient or Arabic names, nearly all stars are designated by catalog numbers rather than names.
The IAU has called the ISR's star-naming business "charlatanry" and their products and marketing have been criticised for "seem[ing] official." The company clarifies the products it sells on its frequently asked questions page, stating:
Astronomers will not recognize your name because your name is published only in our Star catalog.
And further ISR specifically addresses the official status of their products in their FAQ: "Q: Is my Star Name "officially" recognized? A: No. We offer our service services [sic] as a unique gift idea. All stars are numbered and we offer the gift idea of putting a name on that actual numbered star. The name is recorded in our book Your Place in the Cosmos© and the book is listed with the US Copyright Office. However, the scientific community does not recognize our star names."
The ISR has been criticized for their lack of astronomical knowledge. Their FAQ incorrectly states that "Only 2873 stars are visible to the naked eye" (while over a million have been sold). In reality the number of visible stars is closer to 10,000, depending on sky conditions. Astronomer Phil Plait suggested this may be a case of using an overly precise figure to make the ISR seem more scientific than they actually are. At one time, the FAQ also responded to the question "What happens if my star falls out of the sky?" with "[we would] name a new star for that person at our expense", without explanation that "shooting stars" are actually meteoroids which are quite different from stars which do not "fall".
The company defends their products and services saying that they make no explicit claims about the official nature of the service and the practice breaks no laws. Vice president of marketing and advertising, Rocky Mosele, has stated that that customers accept the 'unofficial' nature of the star naming. Astronomy columnist Tammy Plotner wrote of some redeeming educational value saying that it can "motivate someone into taking a deeper look at what’s above them".
The ISR threatened Perkins Observatory at Ohio Wesleyan University with legal action when assistant director Robert Martino put up a website criticizing star-naming companies, despite it being factually correct. Even after Martino removed any direct reference to ISR, he was warned that he should not talk about star-naming at all. Eventually Martino was forced to host his criticisms privately and on newsgroups.
- "Buying Stars and Star Names". IAU buying star names: International Astronomical Union. Retrieved 2009-10-30.
- Britt, Robert Roy. "Mystery Monday". Space.com.
- ISR FAQ, FAQ from International Star Registry
- "International Star Registry – Frequently Asked Questions". Retrieved 2009-05-14.
- Di Justo, Patrick (12 December 2001). "Buy a Star, But It's Not Yours". Wired Magazine. Retrieved 7 October 2009.
Robert Naeye, editor of Mercury Magazine, a publication of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, puts it in no uncertain terms:
"The star names sold by the International Star Registry are not recognized by any professional astronomical organization.
- Philip C. Plait. Bad Astronomy. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0-471-40976-6.
- Plotner, Tammy. "Name a Star". Universe Today.
- "The OFFICIAL Star Naming FAQ" (archived at Internet Archive]