X-Class Solar Flare

This spectacular image of the sun shows yet another powerful solar flare that the sun has emitted in recent weeks.  The image was taken Nov. 19 by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.  Your star name will fly on board a new solar observing spacecraft, the Sunjammer solar sail, which will give us even earlier warning of solar storms that could adversely affect Earth.

Solar flare
An X1-class flare erupts from the right side of the sun in this image captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory on Nov. 19, 2013. The flare erupted from a region that produced many flares in its two-week journey across the face of the sun, and is shown here just before rotating out of view.
Image Credit:  NASA/SDO

This solar flare peaked at 5:26 a.m. EST (10:26 am GMT) Nov. 19. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, however — when intense enough — they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel.

This flare is classified as an X1.0 class flare. “X-class” denotes the most intense flares, while the number provides more information about its strength. An X2 is twice as intense as an X1, an X3 is three times as intense, etc.

This flare came from an active region numbered AR 1893 that is just rotating out of sight over the sun’s right side. Increased numbers of flares are quite common at the moment, since the sun’s normal 11-year activity cycle is ramping up toward solar maximum conditions. Humans have tracked this solar cycle continuously since it was discovered in 1843, and it is normal for there to be many flares a day during the sun’s peak activity.

Beautiful Space Imagery

Here are some beautiful space photos and videos that have been posted on the Internet recently. Enjoy!

This is onboard video of our latest mission, The Centennial Flight, that carried your star name into space June 21, 2013 from Spaceport America, New Mexico.  It shows what it would be like to be on board the rocket, looking down as the rocket flies into space.  Toward the end of the video you’ll see a note indicating “Apogee … 119 km.” That’s the point where the spacecraft reaches its maximum altitude (about 74 miles).

Continue reading “Beautiful Space Imagery”

Beautiful Space Imagery

Here are some beautiful space photos and videos that have been posted on the Internet recently. Enjoy!

The Butterfly Nebula
The Butterfly Nebula
 Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team

The bright clusters and nebulae of planet Earth’s night sky are often named for flowers or insects. Though its wingspan covers over 3 light-years, NGC 6302 is no exception. With an estimated surface temperature of about 250,000 degrees C, the dying central star of this particular planetary nebula has become exceptionally hot, shining brightly in ultraviolet light but hidden from direct view by a dense torus of dust. This sharp and colorful close-up of the dying star’s nebula was recorded in 2009 by the Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3, installed during the final shuttle servicing mission. Cutting across a bright cavity of ionized gas, the dust torus surrounding the central star is near the center of this view, almost edge-on to the line-of-sight. Molecular hydrogen has been detected in the hot star’s dusty cosmic shroud. NGC 6302 lies about 4,000 light-years away in the arachnologically correct constellation of the Scorpion (Scorpius).


This July Fourth the solar system is showing off some fireworks of its own.

Superficially resembling a skyrocket, comet ISON is hurtling toward the sun presently at a whopping 48,000 mph (77,00 kph).

Its swift motion is captured in this time-lapse movie made from a sequence of pictures taken May 8, 2013, by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. At the time the images were taken, the comet was 403 million miles (649 million kilometers) from Earth, between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

The movie shows a sequence of Hubble observations taken over a 43-minute span and compresses this into just five seconds. The comet travels 34,000 miles (55,000 kilometers) in this brief video, or 7 percent of the distance between Earth and the moon. The deep-space visitor streaks silently against the background stars.

Unlike a firework, the comet is not combusting, but in fact is pretty cold. Its skyrocket-looking tail is really a streamer of gas and dust bleeding off the icy nucleus, which is surrounded by a bright star-like-looking coma. The pressure of the solar wind sweeps the material into a tail, like a breeze blowing a windsock.

As the comet warms as it moves closer to the sun, its rate of sublimation (a process similar to evaporation in which solid matter transitions directly into gas) will increase. The comet will get brighter and its tail will grow longer. The comet is predicted to reach naked-eye visibility in November.

The comet is named after the organization that discovered it, the Russia-based International Scientific Optical Network.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md., conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy Inc., in Washington, D.C.

The Ring Nebula
The Ring Nebula
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage (STScI / AURA)- ESA /Hubble Collaboration

Except for the rings of Saturn, the Ring Nebula (M57) is probably the most famous celestial band. Its classic appearance is understood to be due to our own perspective, though. The recent mapping of the expanding nebula’s 3-D structure, based in part on this clear Hubble image, indicates that the nebula is a relatively dense, donut-like ring wrapped around the middle of a football-shaped cloud of glowing gas. The view from planet Earth looks down the long axis of the football, face-on to the ring. Of course, in this well-studied example of a planetary nebula, the glowing material does not come from planets. Instead, the gaseous shroud represents outer layers expelled from the dying, once sun-like star, now a tiny pinprick of light seen at the nebula’s center. Intense ultraviolet light from the hot central star ionizes atoms in the gas. In the picture, the blue color in the center is ionized helium, the cyan color of the inner ring is the glow of hydrogen and oxygen, and the reddish color of the outer ring is from nitrogen and sulfur. The Ring Nebula is about one light-year across and 2,000 light-years away.


“Existence A Time Lapse Project”  Some beautiful imagery of the Milky Way as well as scenes from urban and remote locations.

 

Beautiful Space Imagery

Here are some beautiful space photos and videos that have been posted on the Internet recently. Enjoy!

“Alchemy” — A time-lapse video that shows the beauty of the seasons, including some wonderful views of the Milky Way!

 

Horsehead Nebula
A new NASA Hubble Space Telescope image of the famous Horsehead Nebula

Looking like an apparition rising from whitecaps of interstellar foam, the iconic Horsehead Nebula has graced astronomy books ever since its discovery more than a century ago. The nebula is a favorite target for amateur and professional astronomers. It is shadowy in optical light. It appears transparent and ethereal when seen at infrared wavelengths. The rich tapestry of the Horsehead Nebula pops out against the backdrop of Milky Way stars and distant galaxies that easily are visible in infrared light.  Image Credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team

 

Orion Nebula
The Orion Nebula as imaged by NASA’s WISE infrared space telescope

The Orion nebula is featured in this sweeping image from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE. The constellation of Orion is prominent in the evening sky throughout the world from about December through April of each year. The nebula (also catalogued as Messier 42) is located in the sword of Orion, hanging from his famous belt of three stars. The star cluster embedded in the nebula is visible to the unaided human eye as a single star, with some fuzziness apparent to the most keen-eyed observers. Because of its prominence, cultures all around the world have given special significance to Orion. The Maya of Mesoamerica envision the lower portion of Orion, his belt and feet (the stars Saiph and Rigel), as being the hearthstones of creation, similar to the triangular three-stone hearth that is at the center of all traditional Maya homes. The Orion nebula, lying at the center of the triangle, is interpreted by the Maya as the cosmic fire of creation surrounded by smoke.

This metaphor of a cosmic fire of creation is apt. The Orion nebula is an enormous cloud of dust and gas where vast numbers of new stars are being forged. It is one of the closest sites of star formation to Earth and therefore provides astronomers with the best view of stellar birth in action. Many other telescopes have been used to study the nebula in detail, finding wonders such as planet-forming disks forming around newly forming stars. WISE was an all-sky survey giving it the ability to see these sites of star formation in a larger context. This view spans more than six times the width of the full moon, covering a region nearly 100 light-years across. In it, we see the Orion nebula surrounded by large amounts of interstellar dust, colored green.

Astronomers now realize that the Orion nebula is part of the larger Orion molecular cloud complex, which also includes the Flame nebula. This complex in our Milky Way galaxy is actively making new stars. It is filled with dust warmed by the light of the new stars within, making the dust glow in infrared light.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages, and operated WISE for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. The spacecraft was put into hibernation mode after it scanned the entire sky twice, completing its main objectives. Edward Wright is the principal investigator and is at UCLA. The mission was selected competitively under NASA’s Explorers Program managed by the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The science instrument was built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan, Utah. The spacecraft was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo. Science operations and data processing take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

“We Are the Explorers” — a NASA video that provides a summary of NASA’s history and futuristic space technology.  This almost 3-minute film has inspired the Aerospace Industries Association to produce a 30-second trailer about the U.S. space program — a trailer that will be shown before moviegoers who see the new Star Trek film, “Star Trek: Into Darkness” opening in theaters May 17.

Beautiful Space Imagery

Here are some beautiful space photos and videos that have been posted on the Internet recently. Enjoy!

Whirlpool Galaxy
The Whirlpool Galaxy (a.k.a. M51, NGC 5194) in the Name A Star Live constellation Canes Venatici.
Image Credit: N. Scoville (Caltech), T. Rector (U. Alaska), NOAO) et al., Hubble Heritage Team, NASA

This spectacular spiral galaxy is about 30 million light-years from Earth and is about 60,000 light-years across.  You can see this galaxy with a good pair of binoculars.

LL Ori and the Orion Nebula
The star LLOri in the Orion Nebula.
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team

This esthetic close-up of cosmic clouds and stellar winds features the star LL Orionis, interacting with the flow of the Orion Nebula, in the Name A Star Live constellation Orion. Adrift in Orion’s stellar nursery and still in its formative years, variable star LL Orionis produces a wind more energetic than the wind from our own middle-aged Sun. As the fast stellar wind runs into slow moving gas a shock front is formed, analogous to the bow wave of a boat moving through water or a plane traveling at supersonic speed. The small, arcing, graceful structure just above and left of center is LL Ori’s cosmic bow shock, measuring about half a light-year across. The slower gas is flowing away from the Orion Nebula‘s hot central star cluster, the Trapezium, located off the upper left corner of the picture. In three dimensions, LL Ori’s wrap-around shock front is shaped like a bowl that appears brightest when viewed along the “bottom” edge. The beautiful picture is part of a large mosaic view of the complex stellar nursery in Orion, filled with a myriad of fluid shapes associated with star formation.

This is a NASA video explaining that meteor that exploded over Russia last month.

This is a 4-minute, NASA video about Comet PanSTARRS that may be visible this month.  For more information, see our blog article about this comet.

 

Beautiful Space Photos

Here are some beautiful space photos and videos that have been posted on the Internet recently. Enjoy!

Manatee Nebula
The Great Manatee Nebula

This is a new view of a 20,000-year old supernova remnant called the “Great Manatee Nebula,” named after the endangered Florida Manatee that this nebula resembles.  Also known as “W50,” this is one of the largest supernova remnants ever viewed by the the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA). It is nearly 700 light years across and covers two degrees on the sky – that’s the span of four full Moons!  Click here to see a comparison of this nebula with an actual Florida Manatee.

Supernova Remnant
A supernova remnant in the Name A Star Live constellation Cassiopeia. Image Credit: X-ray – NASA, JPL-Caltech, NuSTAR; Optical – Ken Crawford (Rancho Del Sol Obs.)

The aftermath of a cosmic cataclysm, supernova remnant Cassiopeia A (Cas A) is a comfortable 11,000 light-years away. Light from the Cas A supernova, the death explosion of a massive star, first reached Earth just 330 years ago. Still expanding, the explosion’s debris cloud spans about 15 light-years near the center of this composite image. The scene combines color data of the starry field and fainter filaments of material at optical energies with image data from the orbiting NuSTAR X-ray telescope. Mapped to false colors, the X-ray data in blue hues trace the fragmented outer boundary of the expanding shock wave, glowing at energies up to 10,000 times the energy of the optical photons.

Asteroid flying by Earth
NASA image of an asteroid flying by Earth

On February 15 an asteroid about half the size of a football field will fly past Earth only 17,200 miles above our planet’s surface. There’s no danger of a collision, but the space rock, designated 2012 DA14, has NASA’s attention.

“This is a record-setting close approach,” says Don Yeomans of NASA’s Near Earth Object Program at JPL. “Since regular sky surveys began in the 1990s, we’ve never seen an object this big get so close to Earth.”  Click here to see neat NASA video about this event + read more info.

Landscapes: Volume 3 from Dustin Farrell on Vimeo.

Landscapes has issued another one of their beautiful videos showing images of landscapes here on Earth and the nighttime sky: Be sure to check this video out!

Here is a touching video made in honor of a young Dutch designer who passed away last year from cancer.  The video is entitled “Stardust” and was directed by Mischa Rozema of Amsterdam-based media company PostPanic.  The film’s subject is the interstellar probe, Voyager 1. For more information, see PostPanic’s Vimeo page.

Beautiful Space Photos

Here are some beautiful space photos and videos that have been posted on the Internet recently.  The photos are from  NASA’s “Astronomy Picture of the Day.”  Enjoy!

 

IC1396
IC 1396: Emission Nebula in Cepheus Image Credit: Digitized Sky Survey, ESA/ESO/NASA FITS Liberator, Color Composite: Davide De Martin (Skyfactory)

Stunning emission nebula IC 1396 mixes glowing cosmic gas and dark dust clouds in the high and far off constellation of Cepheus. Energized by the bright, bluish central star seen here, this star forming region is 3,000 light-years from planet Earth.

 

View of Lunar Surface from Apollo 11
Apollo 11 Landing Site Panorama
Credit: Neil Armstrong, Apollo 11, NASA – Panorama by Syd Buxton

Assembled from high-resolution scans of the original film frames, this panorama sweeps across the magnificent desolation of the Apollo 11 landing site on the Moon’s Sea of Tranquility. Taken by Neil Armstrong looking out his window of the Eagle Lunar Module, the frame at the far left (AS11-37-5449) is the first picture taken by a person on another world.

 

M72
M72: A Globular Cluster of Stars
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, Hubble, HPOW

Globular clusters of stars, such as M72, once ruled the Milky Way. Back in the old days, back when our Galaxy first formed, perhaps thousands of globular clusters roamed our Galaxy. Today, there are less than 200 left. Many globular clusters were destroyed over the eons by repeated fateful encounters with each other or the Galactic center. Surviving relics are older than any Earth fossil, older than any other structures in our Galaxy, and limit the universe itself in raw age. There are few, if any, young globular clusters in our Milky Way Galaxy because conditions are not ripe for more to form. Pictured above by the Hubble Space Telescope are about 100,000 of M72’s stars. M72, which spans about 50 light years and lies about 50,000 light years away, can be seen with a small telescope toward the Name A Star Live constellation Aquarius (the Water Bearer).

 

This is the ultimate cute, space video — “A Toy Train in Space” — a story of a father who sends his son’s toy train to the edge of space.

 

This is an absolutely beautiful video called “Purely Pacific Northwest” that features views of the Northern Lights and the Milky Way. View this one after a hard day’s work!

Follow Mars Curiosity with Virtual Planetarium

While the Olympics are dominating the news right now, NASA will be making some exciting news of its own this weekend: NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover is scheduled to land on the Red Planet at 1:31 am EDT (5:31 am GMT) Monday, August 6.  Our Virtual Planetarium™ astronomy software can keep you up-to-date with the rover and its discoveries on the Red Planet!

The dramatic landing of Curiosity rivals anything the Olympics offers!  In a period of time described as “7 minutes of terror,” the spacecraft must slow down from 13,000 mph (21,000 km/h) as it enters the Martian atmosphere to 0 mph, soft-landing in a particular crater, next to a large Martian mountain.  During those 7 minutes the spacecraft will go through a very complex set of maneuvers, which are illustrated in this NASA video.  Moreover, the spacecraft will do this all by itself: Because it takes 14 minutes for radio signals to travel from Mars to Earth, ground controllers cannot possibly control the spacecraft effectively through those crucial 7 minutes.  Instead, the spacecraft will use an onboard computer and radar to guide Curiosity to a precision landing.

Virtual Planetarium
You can follow the rover as it traverses Mars with our Virtual Planetarium software. This is a screenshot from the software's Solar System Update module showing an artist's rendition of the rover on the Martian surface.

Name A Star Live can keep you up-to-date with our Virtual Planetarium software!

A $39.95 value, Virtual Planetarium is seven great programs in one: interactive sky maps; a huge library of stunning astronomy imagery; information and images of the solar system and latest space events; and space weather reports about sun spots, auroras and more.

How to Update Virtual Planetarium

The software’s Solar System Update module already features information about Curiosity (see screenshot above).  Once Curiosity starts sending images back to Earth, Virtual Planetarium will display the more interesting Martian imagery and portal you to the latest online news from NASA.  All you’ll need to do is click on the “UPDATE DATA” button to keep up with all the new discoveries!  Here are even more detailed instructions:

  1. Open up “Space Update” ( or “Virtual Planetarium”) program. (It must be installed on your hard drive, not just on the DVD).
  2. Select “Solar system”
  3. In the upper right corner, select “Update Data”
  4. If it says “Outdated files detected” you can choose to “delete” or “keep” .  (Say “delete” to get rid of the old MSL caption – it will save it in a folder)
  5. It will then say “comparing old and new data”.  If you have a recent addition, it will find 16 new files (if you have an old edition, it may find more!)
  6. Select “Install new”. It shouldn’t take long to download.
  7. Close solar system part of the app.  (You can go to astronomy, for example).  Then when you return to solar system, the new images will be available.
  8. The new images can be seen by choosing solar system ->  Mars -> Missions -> Mars Science Laboratory

Virtual Planetarium sale!

In celebration of Curiosity‘s bold mission to Mars, we are offering a limited-time sale on Virtual Planetarium.  Click here where you can buy the software for only $29.95 from now through August 10!  You can order Virtual Planetarium delivered to you via a DVD, or for download off of our website.

How to Register Virtual Planetarium

Note that there are two ways to register your copy of Virtual Planetarium:

  1. If you install the software using the DVD, you’ll find the serial number written on the DVD.  The serial number starts with the letters “VP”.
  2. If you install the software via download from our website, then the registration key and serial number are made available to you at the moment you download. You can also retrieve these numbers by visiting our homepage (NameAStarLive.com) and logging in to the “My Account” section of our website.

 

Beautiful Space Photos

Here are some beautiful space photos and video that have been posted on the Internet in recent weeks.  Enjoy!

Milky way
The Milky Way

This beautiful photo of the Milky Way was taken from Concordia Research Station, a remote Antarctic facility run by French and Italian scientists. The scientists at this facility are cut off from civilization during the winter months – no chance of resupply or rescue … much like future space explorers!

Pinwheel Galaxy
The Pinwheel Galaxy: The light from this galaxy takes 21 million years to reach Earth! Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO; IR & UV: NASA/JPL-Caltech; Optical: NASA/STScI

This image of the Pinwheel Galaxy, or also known as M101, combines data in the infrared, visible, ultraviolet and X-rays from four of NASA’s space-based telescopes. This combination of telescope views into one image shows that both young and old stars are evenly distributed along M101’s tightly-wound spiral arms. Such composite images allow astronomers to see how features in one part of the spectrum match up with those seen in other parts. It is like seeing with a regular camera, an ultraviolet camera, night-vision goggles and X-ray vision, all at the same time.

The Pinwheel Galaxy is in the constellation of Ursa Major (which includes the Big Dipper). It is about 70% larger than our own Milky Way Galaxy, with a diameter of about 170,000 light years, and sits at a distance of 21 million light years from Earth. This means that the light we’re seeing in this image left the Pinwheel Galaxy about 21 million years ago – many millions of years before humans ever walked the Earth.

The hottest and most energetic areas in this composite image are shown in purple, where the Chandra X-ray Observatory observed the X-ray emission from exploded stars, million-degree gas, and material colliding around black holes.

The red colors in the image show infrared light, as seen by the Spitzer Space Telescope. These areas show the heat emitted by dusty lanes in the galaxy, where stars are forming.

The yellow component is visible light, observed by the Hubble Space Telescope. Most of this light comes from stars, and they trace the same spiral structure as the dust lanes seen in the infrared.

The blue areas are ultraviolet light, given out by hot, young stars that formed about 1 million years ago, captured by the Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX).

England at Night
England and Wales at Night

Billions of people are seeing London through many different filters and lenses during the 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games. None of those views looks quite like this one from NASA’s Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite.  The image above shows London and the southern half of Great Britain as it appeared on the night of March 27, 2012.

Taikonaut Liu Yang

China’s first female astronaut (called “Taikonaut” in China), Liu Yang, emerges from the re-entry capsule of Shenzhou-9 spacecraft, which landed in China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region Friday, June 29, 2012. Liu and two other crew members returned safely to Earth after a 13-day mission to an orbiting prototype space station, the Tiangong-1.

Saturn
Saturn with its largest moon, Titan. Shadows from Saturn's thin rings are cast onto the planet below. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/J. Major

Humanity’s robot orbiting Saturn has recorded yet another amazing view. That robot, of course, is the spacecraft Cassini, while the new amazing view includes a bright moon, thin rings, oddly broken clouds, and warped shadows. Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, appears above as a featureless tan as it is continually shrouded in thick clouds. The rings of Saturn are seen as a thin line because they are so flat and imaged nearly edge on. Details of Saturn’s rings are therefore best visible in the dark ring shadows seen across the giant planet’s cloud tops. Since the ring particles orbit in the same plane as Titan, they appear to skewer the foreground moon. In the upper hemisphere of Saturn, the clouds show many details, including dips in long bright bands indicating disturbances in a high altitude jet stream. Recent precise measurements of how much Titan flexes as it orbits Saturn hint that vast oceans of water might exist deep underground.

Here is a new video of time-lapse imagery of Earth taken from space courtesy of the Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center.  This video was set to music by Tomislav Safundžić.

Can you officially name stars?

Ancient civilizations assigned proper names to stars and constellations, names that were meaningful to them and marked events, seasons, time of the year, honored gods or leaders.  It was a time when stars had a strong presence in our lives, provided guidance, aspirations and wonder. Name A Star Live gift sets represent the modern representation of a centuries old tradition of naming stars.

One of the questions we are asked by our customers is: “Can you officially name stars?”  The short answer is, “No one can ‘officially’ name a star.”  How is that so?  And what value does Name A Star Live bring to the table?

Many astronomers argue that the “International Astronomical Union” (IAU) – an international organization of professional astronomers – is the only body that can ‘officially’ name stars, celestial bodies and their surface features. Few know that the IAU’s decisions are not enforceable by any national or international law.

Part of the Carina Nebula
Hubble's 20th anniversary image shows a mountain of dust and gas rising in the Carina Nebula. The top of a three-light-year tall pillar of cool hydrogen is being worn away by the radiation of nearby stars, while stars within the pillar unleash jets of gas that stream from the peaks. Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Livio and the Hubble 20th Anniversary Team (STScI)

By and large, most astronomers do follow the conventions and recommendations of the IAU regarding the naming of celestial objects.  For example, in 1922 the IAU held a meeting in Rome where the organization agreed upon the names and boundaries of the 88 constellations (areas of the night sky) such as Taurus, Aries, Cancer, etc.  Virtually all astronomers around the world follow the IAU’s definitions of the constellations.

NGC 5584
The brilliant, blue glow of young stars trace the graceful spiral arms of galaxy NGC 5584 in this Hubble Space Telescope image. Thin, dark dust lanes appear to be flowing from the yellowish core, where older stars reside. The reddish dots sprinkled throughout the image are most likely background galaxies. NGC 5584 is about 72 million light-years from Earth, in the Name A Star Live constellation Virgo. Credit: NASA, ESA, A. Riess (STScI/JHU), L. Macri (Texas A&M University), and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

On the other hand, in 2006 the IAU made a very controversial decision concerning the planet Pluto – a decision that has met considerable resistance among many astronomers.  In the 1990s, astronomers began discovering numerous, small planetary objects (such as “dwarf planets”) in the outer reaches of the solar system.  What’s more, in 2003 a planetary body larger than Pluto was discovered in the outer solar system as well.  Astronomers began to worry that with the discovery of so many planetary bodies, the total number of “planets” in the solar system could grow so large as to make the term “planet” almost meaningless.  So in 2006 the IAU created a strict definition of what constitutes a planet.  Under this new definition, the IAU no longer considers Pluto to be a planet, and now states that the solar system has only eight planets, not nine.

Commenting on the IAU’s controversial Pluto decision, Professor Ron Ekers, past president of the IAU, admitted that the IAU’s decisions are not supported by the force of law.  Quoting Professor Ekers from the IAU Web site, “Such decisions and recommendations are not enforceable by any national or international law; rather they establish conventions that are meant to help our understanding of astronomical objects and processes.”

Fair enough: There is a real need within the astronomical community for a common set of definitions and conventions so as to facilitate scientific discourse.   But the point remains that the IAU’s decisions are not, in fact, “official” in any legal sense of the word.

Keith Cowing, the Editor-in-Chief of the prominent aerospace Web site “NASA Watch,” underscored this point when he recently wrote on his site:

If you had a chance to name this new moon [of Pluto] what would you name it – and why did you pick that name? Oh yea, the IAU claims to have a monopoly on naming objects and features in our solar system – and beyond. But there is nothing legally binding to the names they decide to use. Everyone just goes along with them because … well … because. And who gave them this role anyways? Answer: they appoint themselves. So why can’t the rest of us have a say in naming the things in our universe? The IAU is so 20th century. Its time to change this process.

Lunar Reconnisance Orbiter
Artist's concept of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter currently in orbit about the Moon. In response to LRO's "Send Your Name to the Moon" initiative, the spacecraft carries a microchip with nearly 1.6 million names submitted by the public. Similarly, Name A Star Live spacecraft carry our customers' star names into space: We're the only name-a-star company that does this. Image Credit: NASA

Interestingly, other star-naming companies have tried to give the impression that their star names are official.  Some of them have actually made that exact (false) claim.  Some star-naming outfits – essentially trying to imply that they officially name stars – make a point of printing their customers’ star names in a copywritten book, perhaps which is stored in a vault.  Of course, anyone can print a list of star names on pieces of paper, put a copyright symbol (©) on those pieces of paper, and store them in a bank’s safety deposit box.  But that doesn’t make the star names official!

So if the IAU and star-naming companies cannot officially name stars, what value does Name A Star Live provide its customers?

Unlike the IAU and other star-naming companies, Name A Star Live makes the symbolic gesture of naming a star ‘real’ by:

  • Launching our customers’ star names into space, thus making our customers part of real space missions.  NASA does much the same thing when it offers members of the general public the opportunity to include their names on deep space missions.
  • Providing our Virtual Planetarium™ astronomy/space software that was developed in collaboration with Rice University and the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

These real components of our star-naming service – in addition to our handsome Star Certificates and other documentation in our gift sets – set Name A Star Live apart, and provides meaningful value for our customers.

People around the world have been giving different names to stars for thousands of years.  For example, over the centuries the North Star has been named Alruccabah, Cynosura, Lodestar, Pole Star, Navigatoria, Yilduz, Mismar, Dhruv, Hub of the Cosmos, the Steering Star, and the “star that does not walk.”  Today’s astronomers refer to the North Star with such scientific names as “Polaris,” “TYC 4628-237-1,” “HD 8890,” and “HIP 11767,” to give just a few examples.  None of these names are “official” from a legal perspective.  You could just as legitimately refer to the North Star as “the beautiful star in the north that never moves,” “Betty,” “Ralph,” or any other name you so choose.

The point is, naming a star is a beautiful, romantic, symbolic gesture – something that makes for a meaningful gift.  Name A Star Live – alone of all the star-naming companies – makes it real.  Enjoy!