NAMING OF STARS
By Jacqueline Mitton, Ian Howarth & Jonathan Shanklin
The RAS welcomes initiatives that engage a greater public participation in astronomy and geophysics. It notes that some suppliers are selling star names and titles to plots of land on astronomical bodies. Provided that the purchaser realises that these sales confer no legal entitlement, the RAS accepts that they are a ‘fun’ way to widen participation in astronomy.
Some commercial organizations offer to name, or 'redesignate', stars in exchange for payment. Any certificates they issue, and names they allocate, have no official status of any kind whatsoever; they are not used or recognized by astronomers, nor by any other scientists. There is no significance in the recording of such names, or `ownerships', in a book or register, even if that book is subsequently deposited in a copyright library, such as the British Library. (Anyone can – in fact, usually must – send a copy of any published book to such libraries. This doesn't mean that the library approves, checks, or endorses the contents!)
The sole authority recognized by professional and amateur astronomers for the naming of astronomical bodies, and features on them, is the International Astronomical Union (IAU), based in Paris. For stars, galaxies, and all other bodies outside the solar system, the IAU does not allocate individual names (nor `ownerships'). It is simply not a practical method for keeping track of hundreds of millions of stars — numerical catalogue designations are used instead.
(A few hundred of the brightest stars in the sky have traditional names, such as Sirius and Polaris. It's true that the best-known of these names are often used by astronomers, but nonetheless they are unofficial.)
'BUYING' LAND ON MOONS AND PLANETS
The UN Treaties and Principles on Outer Space (Section E ‘Agreement covering the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies’, Article 11) explicitly recognises that the Moon and other celestial bodies within the solar system are the common heritage of mankind, and prohibits ownership by anyone of any part of them.
Although there are commercial enterprises offering to sell plots of land on the Moon, and on other moons and planets in the solar system their claims are not recognized by any astronomical authority.
THE ROYAL ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY'S POLICY
The IAU has a detailed statement and informative answers to frequently asked questions on this subject. The Royal Astronomical Society supports and endorses the IAU's position on the practice of selling star names and land on moons and planets, and dissociates itself from the activities of businesses engaged in such practices. For this reason, the Society does not provide any information about these businesses.