The Night Sky of May 2016

The skies of May 2016 provide some wonderful celestial delights. Read on to see what you can see in the night sky this month!

Mars, the “Red Planet”
See the planet Mars in the night sky in May: The brightest it’s been in over a decade!
Mars opposition
Mars and the sun are on opposite sides of the Earth on May 22, which makes for a great opportunity to view the red planet! Image Credit: NASA

Mars reaches “opposition” on May 22, reaching peak visibility for 2016. In fact, Mars will appear brighter than it has since 2005. “Opposition” just means that Earth is directly between Mars and the sun – Mars and the sun will be on opposite sides of Earth on May 22. So during that evening Mars will rise in the east as the sun sets in the west. On May 30 Mars will reach its closest approach to Earth for the year. The two planets will be only 46.8 million miles (75.3 million kilometers) apart – that’s about half of the distance between the Earth and the sun. Continue reading “The Night Sky of May 2016”

Our green, name-a-star space launches

Astronaut in Earth orbit
Name A Star Live makes you part of a real space mission!

Name A Star Live is the only star naming service that launches your star name into space! But did you know that our space missions are eco-friendly?

Our launches don’t pollute the atmosphere.
Here is how our launches work: We save our star database onto a data storage device. We then ship this device to the facility where the rocket is assembled. Technicians integrate the device into the rocket as a “secondary payload” — we ‘piggyback’ on rockets that carry scientific or communications “primary payloads” into space. Those rockets will fly with their primary payloads whether we’re on board or not. It’s like we are car-pooling — perhaps “rocket-pooling” — into space.

Apollo 17 View of EarthOur missions don’t pollute outer space.
Our spacecraft are carefully designed so as not to create orbital debris. Each Earth-orbiting spacecraft stays permanently attached to a rocket stage that orbits Earth until the spacecraft harmlessly re-enters and is completely consumed by Earth’s atmosphere — blazing like a shooting star!

For missions that are launched aboard a commercially purchased launcher, the Office of Commercial Space Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration issues a license that verifies that our payload does not contribute to orbital debris. For missions not subject to FAA approval, we voluntarily follow the same guidelines that prevent orbital pollution from our missions.

Save money – and the Earth – with our Instant Gifts!
Name A Star Live offers two types of gift sets:

  • Keepsake Gifts are printed and shipped to you (or to your gift recipient).
  • Instant Gifts are provided to you via the Internet: You download your letter-size Star Certificate and any other documents you may add on. You can then print these documents, or display them on your computer, digital photo frame or other device. The PDF documents you download are the same PDF files we would use to print and ship a Keepsake Gift to you. So you get the same quality documents, but because we don’t physically ship them to you, we’re not using packaging or burning fossil fuels to deliver your gift.

Our Earth Orbit missions launch out of Cape Canaveral, Florida. This video shows the significant natural habitat that adjoins the high tech launch facilities at the Cape and at the Kennedy Space Center.

Mothers in the Sky

Andromeda and Cassiopeia
Cassiopeia and Andromeda — Two constellations (areas of the night sky) named after mothers from classical mythology. You can name a star in either constellation!

Naming stars for our mothers is popular today.  In fact, many objects in the night sky have been named after mothers for thousands of years.  And now mothers fly among the stars as astronauts!

The Name A Star Live constellations Andromeda and Cassiopeia are named after two beautiful mothers from classical mythology.  Cassiopeia, the Queen of the Ethiopians and the mother of Andromeda, was a prideful woman who boasted that she was more beautiful than the female attendants to Poseidon, the god of the sea.  For this transgression Poseidon punished Cassiopeia by sending a sea monster to attack Cassiopeia’s country and to kill Andromeda.  But Andromeda was saved and would later have seven children of her own.  Now both mothers travel together in the heavens above as the constellations we know them by today.

Continue reading “Mothers in the Sky”

Top Ten Mother’s Day Messages


Name A Star Live's "Star Bear"
Name A Star Live’s “Star Bear”

As you’re thinking about what to get your mother for Mother’s Day, you might be interested in some of the Mother’s Day messages Name A Star Live customers have included on their Star Certificates. Below are some of the best messages we’ve received. Of course, we’ve changed the names in the messages to protect the privacy of our customers.  We hope these examples will give you some ideas about what to write for your mom.

Have a happy Mother’s Day!

  1. Thank you for being the star of my life!
  2. To my mommy, I love you to the moon and back.
  3. Your wisdom and knowledge have shown us the way, and we are thankful for you as we live day by day.  We don’t tell you enough how important you are, in our universe you’re a bright shining star.
  4. Happy Mother’s Day, Alice! I love you and I can’t wait to meet our son!
  5. The Mother’s Day star will always be in the sky for you – Happy Mother’s Day. Thanks for loving us, no matter what. The Mother’s Day star never fades
  6. As the stars in the sky are countless, so too are the ways you’ve helped me, encouraged me, and showed me your love.    Happy Mother’s Day! I love you!
  7. For my amazing mother who loves unconditionally, and gives wholeheartedly. I love her with all of my heart, and all of my soul.
  8. A star is like a mother’s love, bright, beautiful, warm and everlasting; your star will shine forever in the far above, for you deserve the light it will always be casting.
  9. To the best mum in the world, you really are a star.  We will always love you!
  10. Happy Mothers Day!!! I am so proud to be your son, you are such an amazing woman and I am truly thankful for everything you are and do.  You are my hero, best friend and an amazing mother.

Name a star for your mother this Mother’s Day!

The Big Dipper

When you name a star with Name A Star Live you choose the constellation (area of the night sky, such as Aries or Taurus) in which your star will be located. Many people want to name a star in the Big Dipper. But did you know the Big Dipper is not actually a constellation? It’s really a group of stars that are part of a very large constellation called “Ursa Major,” which is Latin for “big bear.”

Ursa Major
The Big Dipper is part of the constellation Ursa Major, the “big bear.” Image Credit:

Various cultures around the world have interpreted these stars in interesting ways. The Iroquois and Micmac peoples of North America viewed the bowl of the Big Dipper as a bear that was pursued by a group of hunters — the stars in the Big Dipper’s handle. The Arabians viewed the Big Dipper as a funeral procession with the Big Dipper’s bowl as the deceased and the stars in the handle as the mourners. The Germans thought of the Big Dipper as a large wagon. And in classical mythology the Big Dipper and the nearby Little Dipper were a mother and son that Zeus, the king of the gods, had transformed into bears and placed in the heavens.

Alaska's flag
This is the state flag of Alaska, which features the Big Dipper and the North Star. In the Alaskan flag the two stars on the right-hand side of the Big Dipper point to the North Star.

Sailors, pilots and hikers have long used the Big Dipper to navigate. The two stars on the outer edge of the Big Dipper’s bowl are referred to as the “Pointer Stars.” If you draw a line from these two stars, the line will point to the North Star. In fact, American slaves escaping through the Underground Railroad used the pointer stars of the “drinking gourd” (as they knew the Big Dipper) to find their way North to freedom.

Alcor and Mizar
The stars Alcor and Mizar are circled in green.

When you look at the Big Dipper, see if you can distinguish between the two bright stars Alcor and Mizar in the Big Dipper’s handle. Being able to distinguish between these two, close stars is a traditional test of one’s eyesight. These two stars — a.k.a. “the horse and the rider” — are about 83 light-years from Earth. The brighter star Mizar is actually a quadruple star system, and its dimmer neighbor Alcor is a binary star system.

When can you see the Big Dipper?

The Big Dipper is visible all year from most of Europe, the northern U.S. and Canada. In the southern U.S. it can be seen in the springtime during evening hours. Visit our online Constellation Calendar to see when the Big Dipper (in Ursa Major) is visible from your community.


Star Bear Gift Set
Name a star in Ursa Major with the Star Bear Gift Set

If you’re thinking of naming a star in the Big Dipper for someone, consider Name A Star Live’s popular Star Bear Gift Set. This unique gift includes:

  • A Star Bear — a cuddly teddy bear holding a star. What more appropriate way to name a star in the “Big Bear”?
  • A printed Star Certificate;
  • A digital, letter-size Star Certificate that you can download and print right away;
  • A digital Launch Certificate we provide to you after we launch your star’s name into space: We’re the only star-naming service that makes you part of a real space mission!


See Jupiter and the Moon tonight!

Jupiter will appear near the Moon tonight.
Jupiter will appear near the Moon tonight.

Tonight you’re in for a special treat: The mighty planet Jupiter will be near the Moon. Both celestial objects will be in the Name A Star Live constellation Leo all night long.

Jupiter and its four largest Moons as viewed through an amateur telescope.
Jupiter and its four largest moons as viewed through an amateur telescope.

While no telescope is required to spot Jupiter — it will be the bright, star-like object nearest the Moon — if you have a telescope you will likely be able to see Jupiter’s four large moons. These moons are known as the “Galilean satellites” named in honor of Galileo, who discovered them in 1610 and observed their movement through a telescope. These four moons are known as Io, Callisto, Europa and Ganymede — Ganymede is larger than the planet Mercury.

If you can stay up late tonight, try viewing the moons twice this evening, about two hours apart. You’ll notice the moons change position relative to Jupiter. In fact you may see the four moons at one time, and see only two or three of the moons a couple of hours later.

The Sky Tonight
The “Sky Tonight” module in Virtual Planetarium shows you what planets and constellations are visible in the night sky.

Tip: With our Virtual Planetarium astronomy software you can see what planets are visible any night of the year! Specifically, Virtual Planetarium’s “Sky Tonight” module shows you the constellations and planets you can see tonight, or any night. Details….

Don’t Miss the Parade of Planets

We get a rare treat in the pre-dawn sky in late January 2016 as the planets Venus, Saturn, Mars and Jupiter form a parade, of sorts, across the sky!  These planets are easy to spot — no telescope required.

Parade of planets
The pre-dawn sky, looking south

If you’re in the northern hemisphere of Earth, wake up a little early and face south-southeast to view these four planets.  Toward the end of January the planet Mercury joins the parade when it becomes visible just over the eastern horizon about 30 minutes before sunrise.

Love is in the stars!

Part 1 of a two-part series

Love is in the stars in this month’s selection of beautiful space images!  Enjoy!

Heart of the Milky Way
Credit: ESO/J. Girard (
There is a lot to love about astronomy, and — in time for Valentine’s Day — photographer Julien Girard offers a “heartfelt” example in this image. A bright pink symbol of love appears to float ethereally against the backdrop of the night sky over the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO’s) Paranal Observatory in northern Chile. Girard drew the heart in the air by shining a tiny flashlight keychain at the camera during a 25-second exposure with a tripod.

The central region of the Milky Way appears in the middle of the heart, as the plane of our galaxy stretches across the image. The stars of the constellation of Corona Australis (The Southern Crown) form a glittering arc of jewels at the top of the heart’s left lobe. The diffuse glow to the left of the heart’s lowest point is zodiacal light, caused by the scattering of light from the Sun by dust particles in the Solar System.

On the far right horizon, the 8.2-metre telescopes of the ESO Very Large Telescope (VLT) facility stand out in silhouette atop Cerro Paranal. The lights of a car driving down from the observatory platform can be seen just to the left of the telescopes.

Julien Girard is an ESO astronomer based in Chile, who works at the Ver Large Telescope (VLT). He is the instrument scientist for the NACO adaptive optics instrument on the VLT’s Unit Telescope 4. He submitted this photograph to the Your ESO Pictures Flickr group, from where it was picked out as an ESO Picture of the Week.

Antenna Galaxies

Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration. Acknowledgement: B. Whitmore ( Space Telescope Science Institute) and James Long (ESA/Hubble).

Colliding galaxies make love, not war

This Hubble Space Telescope image of the Antennae galaxies is the sharpest yet of this merging pair of galaxies. As the two galaxies smash together, billions of stars are born, mostly in groups and clusters of stars. The brightest and most compact of these are called super star clusters.

Heart on Mars
Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems

This picture of a heart-shaped pit on Mars was taken on February 26, 2008 by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It is approximately 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) long and is centered near Mars’ equator. The pit is one of many adjacent to Hydaspis Chaos, a jumbled topographic depression thought to have formed by collapse of the surface due to—perhaps—catastrophic release of groundwater.

A Valentine's Day asteroid
Credit: NEAR Project (JHU/APL)

Just in time for its Valentine’s Day 2000 date with 433 Eros, the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) spacecraft snapped this photo during its approach to the 21-mile (34 kilometer)-long space rock. Taken Feb. 11, 2000 from 1,609 miles (2,590 kilometers) away, the picture reveals a heart-shaped depression about 3 miles (5 kilometers) long. Scientists at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory – which manages the NASA mission – processed the image on Feb. 12, 2000.

Top Ten Valentine’s Day Messages

RoseAs you’re thinking about what to get your significant other for Valentine’s Day, you might be interested in some of the Valentine’s Day messages Name A Star Live customers have included on their Star Certificates. Below are some of the best messages we’ve received so far. Of course, we’ve changed the names in the messages to protect the privacy of our customers.  We hope these examples will give you some ideas about what to write for your loved one.  Have a happy Valentine’s Day! Continue reading “Top Ten Valentine’s Day Messages”