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May 27, 2013 | by  | in Opinion |
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Laying Down the Law

Buying someone a star and naming it for them could just be one of the most romantic gestures you could make. Celebrities have done it, the practice has found its way into popular culture, and there are many websites offering to sell you the chance to name, buy, or adopt a star. So how is it that companies can sell you the chance to name a burning ball of gas floating somewhere out in space? Well, the answer is—technically they can’t.

The only body that can officially ‘name’ the stars is the International Astronomical Union (IAU). To name stars the IAU follow internationally accepted rules. It looks like quite a complex process (see iau.org/public/naming/), but essentially, stars are given numbers in a pretty methodical manner, to enable them to be easily located in future.

So what do you get if you pay to name or adopt a star? Usually you will get a certificate with your star name on it, a star chart to help you find the star you have supposedly named, and some background information about the star and the stars surrounding it. Or, as the IAU succinctly put it, you’ll be paying for nothing more than “an expensive piece of paper and a temporary feeling of happiness.” Your star name will not be recognised by any scientists or space agencies, but it will probably be unique to the database of the organisation from which you have made your purchase.

Strictly speaking, you get everything you have paid for from the transaction, as the companies that ‘sell’ stars are very careful about what they offer. In New Zealand, if companies are misleading or deceptive in the way that they market their star-naming packages then they could potentially face issues under the Fair Trading Act 1986. More information on this practice is available at iau.org/public/buying_star_names/, but remember, in the words of the IAU, the beauty of the night sky is not for sale.

Disclaimer: ‘Laying Down the Law’ is written by Victoria Law students, and as such should not be treated as professional legal advice. However, if you’re looking to buy up a fine little piece of gas, this should give you a pretty good idea of what you’re in for.

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