Every now and then, especially on late night radio or TV, one will come across an ad where a business promises to, for a fee, rename a star after your special someone. Cash paid, one will then be mailed an official certificate stating that, indeed, some celestial body is now named after your significant other. Sounds cool doesn’t it?
Unfortunately, it’s all a scam.
When it comes to naming heavenly bodies, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) is the only body who’s opinion matters. In the past, naming things in space was a kind of Wild West if you will. At one time, any body or feature on a body was named by whoever discovered it. Usually, the names were respectable and most in the astronomical community went along with them. However, a turning point came in 1781 when British astronomer William Herschel discovered a planet beyond Saturn.
Being a patriotic Englishman, for Herschel, it was only natural to name the new planet after then-king George III , who became Herschel’s patron after the discovery. Herschel’s proposed name for the planet: Georgium Sidus (the Georgian star). However, for people of other nationalities, especially the French, the name wasn’t something they wanted associated with the 7th planet in the solar system. Not surprisingly, astronomers of other nations didn’t adopt Herschel’s suggestion for the king-honoring name, opting to call the planet ‘Herschel’ instead. In time, though, in keeping with tradition, the 7th planet was named Uranus, the Latinized version of the Greek sky god’s name, Ouranos. Why Uranus? Simple. Saturn (6th planet) was the father of Jupiter (5th planet). So, in keeping with this father-son trend, it was only natural that the 7th planet should be named for the father of the 6th, which, by default, would be Ouranos (Uranus), who was the father of Saturn.
By 1850, Uranus was finally the universally (or at least Earth-wide) accepted as the name for the 7th planet (8th planet Neptune being discovered two years previously).
So, after the decades-long Planet George fiasco, the rules for naming things in space became more clearly defined the international community decided as a whole that the names for bodies in the cosmos should not reflect national chauvinism on Earth. In time, these unwritten rules would evolve into the formal procedures of today where only the IAU, not late-night advertisers, can approve the name for any cosmic body.
In conclusion, next time you hear an ad where, for a fee, you can name a star, asteroid, or whatever after your special someone, don’t only ignore the ad, but then warn your friends of such scams.
Practically, if you want to see Uranus, it is possible, provided that you have binoculars and know where to look. In the end, though, astronomy all comes down to the weather. Locally, the Cleveland extended forecastis looking pretty iffy. For a more precise forecast, check the Cleveland Clear Sky Clock. Live somewhere else? Find a clock near you. Hopefully, there will be a clear, Venus-revealing morning this week.
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