Official star names
Posted: 03 December 2016 06:27 PM   [ Ignore ]
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This New York Times article reports that the International Astronomical Union has released a list of 227 officially recognized star names.  These are all what a chemist would call “trivial” rather than “systematic” names (e.g., in chemistry, calomel rather than mercury (I) chloride, in astronomy, Antares rather than α Scorpii), but now they are officially recognized (and have official spellings).

They preserved a lot of historical, if sometimes obscure, names and I was pleased to see Rigil Kentaurus (more commonly known as Alpha Centauri A) on the list. 

(I trust I need not mention to such a learned group as this that the so-called International Star Registry has no more authority to name stars than anyone else, and is essentially a scam. I seem to recall a skit from the early years of SNL when they mocked the ISR with a parody ad for an outfit that would sell you the right to name to name a hair on Ed Asner’s back, but I can’t Google up any confirmation of this).

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Posted: 04 December 2016 01:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Not so learned.
I assume that SNL is Sandia National Laboratories?  It wasn’t mentioned in your post or in the link.  (I quickly ruled out Sex Now or Leave from the list of acronyms).

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Posted: 04 December 2016 02:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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ElizaD - 04 December 2016 01:14 AM

Not so learned.
I assume that SNL is Sandia National Laboratories?  It wasn’t mentioned in your post or in the link.  (I quickly ruled out Sex Now or Leave from the list of acronyms).

Saturday Night Live, Eliza, a long-running comedy show which is almost an institution in the States. SNL is an abbreviation instantly understood by Americans. It’s not shown in the UK so it’s quite understandable that you would’t know it. (I catch a lot of US TV on the net, which is why I’m familiar with it.)

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Posted: 04 December 2016 02:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Thank you, aldi.  I’m glad (I changed from “relieved") that my second assumption was also incorrect.

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Posted: 04 December 2016 03:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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aldiboronti - 04 December 2016 02:04 AM

… almost an institution in the States. SNL is an abbreviation instantly understood by Americans.

It’s so common that it’s almost invariably pronounced with emphasis on the S and the L at the expense of the N as though it were a quick pronunciation of S&L.  I always think of Savings and Loan when I hear it spoken.

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Posted: 04 December 2016 05:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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These are all what a chemist would call “trivial” rather than “systematic” names (e.g., in chemistry, calomel rather than mercury (I) chloride, in astronomy, Antares rather than α Scorpii), but now they are officially recognized (and have official spellings).

Putting my pedant’s hat on, I have to note that unlike chemistry or Linnaean taxonomy, there is no single, “official” systematic system of star naming. There are dozens of different star catalogs, compiled for different purposes.

The system that assigns a Greek letter and Latin genitive name of the constellation is the Bayer catalog, first developed in 1603. (Dr. T’s example of α Scorpii is a Bayer designation.) Alpha is assigned to the brightest star in the constellation, beta to the next brightest, and so on. Although in some cases, Bayer deviated from the brightness criterion and assigned the letter based on the first to rise in the east, so the designations can appear to be random. Furthermore, in some cases the constellation boundaries have changed or the stars’ proper motion has carried them into a different constellation than when first observed, so the constellation designations don’t necessarily conform to the modern constellation definitions. (Contrary to popular thought, the stars do move relative to one another, just very, very slowly; too slow to be discerned by the naked eye over the course of a human’s lifetime.) Bayer’s catalog originally included only stars that could be seen from Germany with the naked eye, but more were added later.

Another commonly used system is the Flamsteed catalog, first published in 1712. This one assigns a number and Latin genitive, as in 51 Pegasi. Like Bayer, the Flamsteed numbers have changed, although they pretty much became fixed in 1783. Flamsteed’s catalog contains only naked-eye stars seen from southern England.

Professional astronomers tend to use the Henry Draper Catalog (HD/HDE) and the Bonner Durchmusterung (BD) catalog for stars not included in Draper. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Catalog (SAO) is also commonly used. These catalogs all have systems that produce names based on the star’s position in the sky and cover the full sky down to ninth or tenth magnitude stars. (But they still don’t contain “all” the stars. That’s an impossible task.)

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Posted: 04 December 2016 10:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I’m with ElizaD, down there among the unlearned. Never heard of the ISR before Dr. T’s post.  I think it’s most unfair to call it a “scam”, which suggests that it’s dishonest in some way.  I could find nothing dishonest about the website at all: no false claims, no misrepresentation, no concealment.  On the contrary, I think it’s a really, stupendously, brilliant piece of marketing. Order a kit from the company, and tell them what you want to call a star, and you get a framed certificate to the effect that that’s what you call it; and they get anything up to US$154.95 (depending on which kit you order), and everybody’s happy. Masterful!

I would save the epithet “scam” for companies that invite young people to wreck their teeth with sugared, flavoured, carbonated bottled water, using advertisements that suggest you’ll end up a social leper (with zero sex) if you don’t. Just one example among millions of scams in today’s world of marketing.

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Posted: 04 December 2016 03:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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lionello - 04 December 2016 10:49 AM

I’m with ElizaD, down there among the unlearned. Never heard of the ISR before Dr. T’s post.  I think it’s most unfair to call it a “scam”, which suggests that it’s dishonest in some way.  I could find nothing dishonest about the website at all: no false claims, no misrepresentation, no concealment.  On the contrary, I think it’s a really, stupendously, brilliant piece of marketing. Order a kit from the company, and tell them what you want to call a star, and you get a framed certificate to the effect that that’s what you call it; and they get anything up to US$154.95 (depending on which kit you order), and everybody’s happy. Masterful!

It is a straight snow job. Then again, tis the season for praising con artists as smart.

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Posted: 05 December 2016 04:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I’m not sure I agree. A snow job, to me, involves deception, i.e. the misrepresentation of a falsehood as a truth.  What does ISR misrepresent, tell me?  Nothing that I can see. Nowhere do they claim to be anything other than an unofficial body. If you are incapable of realizing that you don’t need to pay anybody in order to name a star, or to name any number of stars — that’s your problem.  It’s not a swindle, which is what a scam is. These people lead you into deceiving yourself (giving you every possible assistance to do so), but they don’t lie to you. Perhaps I have misread the website. Or perhaps you and I have different definitions of a snow job.  These are simply people taking advantage of the fact that many of us don’t bother to (or can’t) think a situation through to its logical conclusion.  This is skilful marketing, which is simply making something appear to be more than it is (without overstepping any laws), and then selling it. Contemptible, I wholly agree; but not criminal.

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Posted: 05 December 2016 07:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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From the ISR website:

Although not an astronomic or photometric reference catalog, this alphabetical listing of the stars is both personally and historically significant.

Historically significant? I’d say that’s completely misleading. It has no historical significance whatsoever. I’m sure you’re right that it skirts the law though.

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Posted: 05 December 2016 09:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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The ISR was not always as honest in their advertising as they are now.  To quote Wikipedia,

In 1998 the International Star Registry was issued a violation by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs for deceptive advertising for claiming “official” naming rights and have since discontinued this claim.

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Posted: 05 December 2016 09:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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I don’t know if the ISR still does it, but they used to specifically mention that your Star Name will be “recorded in book form” at the Library of Congress.  Boy, if the Library of Congress isn’t official I don’t know what is!  As we get close to Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Mother’s Day they ramp up their advertising on sports radio and other married-male-demo outlets with troves of last-minute shoppers, so I’ll pay attention to see if they still use that wording. 

Luckily my wife has never expressed an interest in having a star named after her.  Now if I could only hypnotize her into ignoring the marketing efforts of DeBeers and 1-800-FLOWERS ("Would you like to add an ‘I Love You’ balloon for only $8.99?  How about a 4-ounce heart-shaped box of chocolate-flavored candies for only $12.99?") I’d be set.

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Posted: 05 December 2016 09:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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I would save the epithet “scam” for companies that invite young people to wreck their teeth with sugared, flavoured, carbonated bottled water, using advertisements that suggest you’ll end up a social leper (with zero sex) if you don’t. Just one example among millions of scams in today’s world of marketing.

But suggesting that the consumer’s life will be imperfect or incomplete without the product is practically a description of advertising, as even most under-10s know perfectly well. And if you buy a can of cola under the impression that it will somehow improve your social life, at least you get the can of cola that you paid for. A scam is an operation that leaves the sucker either with nothing at all, or with something that the scammer knows perfectly well doesn’t answer the promised description.

I suggest that there is such a thing as a ‘benign scam’ - benign in the sense that tumours can be benign. If you really believe that the ISR has any official validity, and pay the company on that basis (and some people are gullible enough to believe just about anything) then you have indeed been scammed; but no actual loss or damage is likely to accrue to you, and in fact you’re unlikely even ever to find out.

Slightly less benign, I’d say, are the companies that induce people to part with money for ‘Your Coat of Arms’ or ‘the right to call yourself a Lord or Lady’. People who are dumb enough to buy these tend to do so in order to flaunt them publicly, which exposes them to ridicule - indeed, in most of Western Europe, using the coats of arms these scam merchants sell can potentially expose the user to legal action from the person genuinely entitled to use them, and in Scotland there’s actually the (admittedly remote) possibility of a criminal charge.

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Posted: 05 December 2016 12:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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I’d say it’s fair to call the ISR a scam. Scams are never benign, but they don’t have to be especially damaging. Their ad copy is misleading, deceptive, even if it is technically true. (For example, depositing a book in the Library of Congress is not a particularly difficult thing to do. All you need to do is acquire an ISBN and send the LC a copy. And you may not even need an ISBN.)

I would not, however, call the ISR a cheat, fraud, or swindle. They deliver exactly what they say they will. (And I’ve seen the certificates they issue. They look nice hanging on a wall.)

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