Exposing PseudoAstronomy

June 9, 2010

Terry Nazon’s Astronomy: Just Plain Wrong


Introduction

I wanted to take a brief pause from writing lectures for the intro astronomy class I’m teaching (don’t worry guys, the one for tomorrow is already written!) and head down a different path for a few moments.

Some may consider me a glutton for punishment. Considering my recent run-in of being threatened by an astrologer, I’ve been following her a bit on Twitter to see what she’s up to in her astrological prognostications. And that’s what I want to talk about today.

Get Your Astronomy Right!

Alright, I’ll say it to start off with to let everyone know where I stand: I do not “believe” in astrology. I trust the studies that have shown it no better than random guessing and that have shown it has no predictive power better than cold reading and self-reporting positive results for positive predictions. I don’t see any mechanism by which it could work, and none that have been proposed by astrologers actually have any physical validity unless they want to re-write the laws of physics.

That said, if you’re going to be an astrologer, AT LEAST GET YOUR ASTRONOMY RIGHT!!!

I honestly don’t know if this is common to most astrologers, or if it just happens to be Terry Nazon who is, well, I’ll be polite and just say apparently ignorant of astronomy and where stuff is in the sky. It’s a little hard to believe considering that astrology’s entire foundation is based on where stuff is in the sky, but, well, facts are facts.

I showed in my series on Nazon before (part 1, part 2, and part 3) that she is apparently fairly ignorant of where objects are in the actual sky, and this is seriously not a case where you just have to take my word for it. Go download any free astronomy sky-display software, look at a star chart yourself, or download a commercial or shareware software. You will be able to demonstrably see that what I stated in my previous series is accurate. (I’m not going to provide star charts this time unless asked for in Comments because I think it’s fairly redundant at this point … and because I need to write a homework set to hand out for tomorrow.)

What’s Going on This Time?

14 hours ago from the time of this writing, so I guess around 6AM MDT (mountain daylight time for those not in the US), Nazon tweeted, “Mercury enters Gemini it’s home placement. Expects things to start moving quickly….”

This intrigued me. I don’t know anything about Mercury’s “home placement,” but based on my experience on my previous series about Terry Nazon (part 1, part 2, and part 3), I wanted to check this. I was not disappointed. At the moment, Mercury is on the Aries side of Taurus, actually having just entered Taurus on June 5 (5 days ago as of writing this). It won’t be until very late in the day on June 25 (that’s in 15 days) that Mercury will enter Gemini. Interesting.

On Monday, so about 2 days ago, Nazon tweeted (and put on her Facebook page): “Mars the planet of action enters Virgo where it last transitied [sic] July 2008. Mars transit around the zodiac is about 2 1/2 yrs. The last time Mars was in Virgo Saturn had just begun it’s transit of Virgo too. Now the two meet up again as Saturn ends its transit through Virgo.”

Also interesting. I love conjunctions, they’re actually really cool to photograph. I showed a conjunction to my class yesterday of the five planets that the ancient civilizations knew about in a photo taken a few years ago. But anyway, back to the claim. I took a look, and yet again, Mars is not anywhere near Virgo. It’s on the Cancer side of Leo right now, though Virgo is on the other side, and Saturn is currently reasonably close to the Leo side of Virgo.

However, Mars moves through the sky much more slowly than Mercury. As a consequence, while Terry Nazon was about 2 weeks off for her Mercury prediction, she’s a full 40 days of for her Mars prognostication. Mars will not enter Virgo until July 19 (actually July 20 for about 1/3 of the world).

(As a side note, about a month later on August 12 there is a VERY cool conjunction between Mars, Venus, Saturn, a thin crescent moon, AND Mercury that will be visible early in the morning evening.)

About the other part of that claim — when Mars last transited (moved through) Virgo, it did so between August 8, 2008, and October 15, 2008. It started doing this reasonably close to Saturn, though that’s almost due to definition: Saturn’s orbit around the sun takes about 30 Earth years. From 1 Earth year to the next, or even 2 Earth years to the next two, Saturn is not going to move very far in the sky. So if Mars right now is near Saturn, then the last time Mars was in this location, it was also near Saturn. But, regardless, Nazon is yet again wrong on her dates.

Final Thoughts

Perhaps I’m picking on low-hanging fruit. But this really does bug me a fair bit. In a different way than all the 2012 doomsday-sayers and young-Earth creationists. Astrologers claim that what they are doing is science. They base what they do on the motions of the planets, sun, moon, stars, and sometimes asteroids. The very least they could do is to get those motions and positions correct!

And yet again, I’ll use the refrain: If Nazon’s easy-to-see astronomy claims of where objects are when are so demonstrably wrong (and other astrologers who may be wrong like her), why should ANYONE pay the $75 an e-mail or up to $330 an hour for one of her “readings?” Heck, send me an e-mail and I’ll at least tell you where stuff is in the sky when. And I won’t charge you nearly that much.

June 2, 2010

Ah, the Joys of Stepping on Someone’s Toes: Terry Nazon Redux


Introduction

A few months ago, I wrote a 2-part post about the claims of astrologer Terry Nazon and her claims about 2012. I asked a fellow blogger (Johan), one who knows much more about archaeology than I, to do a third part for the series about her archaeology claims of the Mayans. He kindly obliged and you can read all three parts here: Part 1, part 2, and part 3.

I made a point that her many claims made on her website about the astronomy of 2012 were either (a) wrong, (b) meaningless, or (c) insignificant. Johan’s point in the third part was that her information about the Maya was (a) wrong and (b) reflected a fairly ethnocentric view on her part.

My point was to conclude that she (a) doesn’t seem to know what she’s talking about from an astronomy nor archaeological point of view, and (b) if what she said could be shown to be so demonstrably wrong, why should someone pay her several hundred dollars for a phone call ($330 for an hour, or $75 for an e-mail reading)?

Edited to Add: On September 18, 2012, I got an e-mail from my thesis advisor and boss that Terry was planning on suing me for various things. I have updated this post accordingly, leaving the original language but making edits with strikes to indicate deletions and underlines to indicate additions. I also note that while I filed this under “scams,” this is my opinion based on her writings, it is not a statement of legal fact.

What’s Going On

Apparently rather than defending her claims, over the past 24 hours Johan and I have been receiving much spam and angry threats to both our blogs as well as through e-mail. The e-mails were almost certainly from Ms. Nazon, sent from the Comcast IP address 75.149.179.194 in Florida, the same as her area code on her website, and from her eponymous and Comcast-based e-mail address. The comments, attempted to be posted under various names, have also come from the same IP address.

It appears also as though she is now trying to pass herself off as me, posting under the name “astrostu206265” (the ID I happened to choose when I started this blog due to a sort of “inside number” to astronomers of 206265), e-mail address “astrostu206265@yahoo.com” (which to my knowledge does not exist), and of course that IP address (75.149.179.194). She (apparently) has tried to do this on my blog and she has done this on others. I got an e-mail from The Godless Monster blog writer asking if I made the post to their blog under that IP address with the message:

“You are all a bunch of anonymous cowards who hide behind anonymous names and @anywhere emails…no one will listen to anywhos @anywhere.com s
fakes. cowards and phonies who must not believe what they write because they are ashamed to put there name and face to it…stand up cowards and be counted.”

That’s the same message she that person with that IP and that e-mail tried to post to my blog, twice. And she that person with that IP and that e-mail posted it to the comments section of “New Discoveries and Comments About Creationism” where I happened to post a comment or two.

The purpose of this post is to let fellow bloggers know – if they happen to do a search for “astrostu206265” – what’s going on, and to block that IP address and similar messages if she that person with that IP and that e-mail moves computers.

Final Thoughts

I hadn’t really planned on making this whole thing public since I didn’t want to feed it, but I did want to make a quick public statement in an attempt to separate what she’s doing from my own actions. I’m in Colorado, my IP address starts with 67.161.x. Oh, and if anyone happens to know a way to have WordPress actually spoof my handle (astrostu206265) and make it appear as my actual name, let me know, ’cause I’ve been looking for that for awhile I’ve changed my handle here so WP displays it as my name.

I also noticed that, throughout this, she still has the wrong information (and type-os) on her website. And in case she does end up fixing it, I saved a copy of the page like all the sites I talk about as evidence that I wasn’t trying to make straw man arguments. She’s also still claiming that she is, “Terry Nazon, World Famous Celebrity Astrologer.” Interesting way for one of that status to act, assuming it was her.

March 8, 2010

Is Debunking a Fringe Person Still Worth It?


Introduction

This morning, I received an IM from a friend congratulating me on the 100,000+ reads on my blog. I responded with a bit of surprise, saying that I didn’t realize she read my blog. Her response was that she has an RSS feed of it and skims what I write when there’s a new post.

This particular friend happens to be the person I briefly consulted for my two-part (eventually three-part) series on the astrologer Terry Nazon (here and here), because this friend practices astrology as a hobby.

Somewhat fearful, I asked her what she thought of the two blog posts about Ms. Nazon. Her response was, “I think that you were probably debunking a hack astrologer.” That led me to quickly justify why I did it, but I think it does raise a decent question: Should one spend the time debunking someone who is on the fringe of their particular pseudoscientific belief system?

Why I Think the Answer Is “Maybe”

I think that there are several reasons both do to this and not to do it. On the “not” side there’s the obvious time-waste component for relatively little gain if they’re on the fringe. There’s the lack of applicability to the underlying field you’re trying to refute. Another con is that you run the risk of presenting a straw man argument – though I try to make very clear that I am only addressing specific claims, not the entire field.

On the “do it” side, I think there are stronger arguments, providing you have the time. The first I thought of is that this person is still making their claims and they do have an audience. In Ms. Nazan’s case, she was going to be featured on an internationally syndicated radio show that reaches literally millions of people every night on over 525 radio stations. Many of her website page headings (her site, her blog, her Facebook) bill her as “Terry Nazon World Famous Astrologer” with the word “Celebrity” sometimes thrown in there. She also apparently makes enough money to run her website.

That led me to the second reason: She’s bilking people out of a heck of a lot of money. I’ll repeat the numbers – at least the current ones on her website – which are $4.99 per minute, $75 for an e-mail reading, $75 for a 15-minute reading, $150 for a 30-minute reading, and $330 for a 60-minute phone reading. I am still amazed at that – I cannot grasp that people are willing to throw that much money at her for something that says at the bottom of her website in very small print, “For entertainment purposes only,” and for someone who was absolutely so demonstrably wrong in her claims (as I illustrated here and here). A three-hour reading from her costs more than my month’s rent.

Third – and this is more minor – you get experience picking through arguments in a logical, methodical way.

And for me, that’s really enough. If (1) the person has a name for themselves and an audience, and (2) there actually is harm being done – in this case separating people from their money during a recession – then I think they’re fair game. It doesn’t matter whether they’re on the fringe of their particular field. You still get the experience of debunking someone, and hopefully some of the people being harmed will at least begin to doubt what they’re about to do. If by my blog posts I have stopped one person from contacting Terry Nazon for a reading, then I will be pretty happy and consider it worth it.

Similarly, despite using some of the more fringe claims of 2012 and Planet X stuff to address some of the more basic claims people make, my blog generally gets ~150-250 hits a day from people searching for information on the subject, or linking to my blog from forums or bulletin boards as a resource to learn what’s really not going to happen. I have actually received e-mails from people who say that they were very worried and my blog helped them to calm down from the hysteria that they were approaching. And of course the Comments section posts are nice, too.

What Do You Think?

This is where I normally sum up my position, but I think I already did that. Rather, I’ll use this quick ending to ask you, the reader, what do you think about this? Should people bother to spend time debunking more fringe claims in a field? Or is it just a waste of time? Please answer in the Comments!

February 16, 2010

Planet X and 2012 and Astrology: Exploring the Claims of Astrologer Terry Nazon on 2012, Part 2


Introduction

This is Part 2 of my two-part series on the 2012 claims of astrologer Terry Nazon, found on her website, “The Mayan Prophecy of 2012,” which I found after seeing the Coast to Coast AM late-night George Noory -hosted radio show for February 15, 2010 on their “Astrology Special.”

Part 1 of this series dealt with Ms. Nazon’s specific numbered claims on that page on her website. This second part will focus on the claims she makes throughout the paragraphical text on the page.

Note: There will be a third part to this series, but it will not be posted for a few months. I have been in contact with Johan Normark, who writes the Archaeological Haecceities blog and he has agreed to write a guest post for me about Ms. Nazon’s claims of the Mayan culture, but he will not be able to do so for a few months.

The Galactic Center — of Our Universe?

“Let me introduce you to the Galactic Center of our universe, the Milky Way 27° Sagittarius. This is where all the creative energy of universe comes from. A Massive black hole, many times larger than our own Sun.”

After reading some of what Ms. Nazon has written, and especially going into her numbered claims as I did in Part 1 of this 2-part post, I would surmise that she knows very little astronomy. I would expect she knows some very basics, like what a planet is, what the ones in the solar system are, and some basics known to laypeople. However, she apparently does not know galactic structure nor the basics of the layout o the universe, as evidenced by the above quote.

In my first part of this series on Ms. Nazon, I very quickly brushed through celestial coordinate systems. I’ll go a bit more in-depth here because this post is MUCH shorter.

If you were to project Earth’s latitude system onto the sky, you get what astronomers refer to as “declination” which is abbreviated as “DEC.” It’s that simple. The North Celestial Pole, at +90 DEC, is very close to the star Polaris and is where Earth’s rotational axis would lie if it were to go on forever. 0° DEC is the celestial equator.

Longitude is a bit trickier. While there are technically 360° in any circle, astronomers divide the sky’s longitude into what’s known as “right ascension,” where the circle is divided into 24 hours (abbreviated “RA”). The reason for this is to make estimating when an object will be visible a little easier. For example, let’s say I’m out observing and Mars is at the 13 hr RA. But, at that time, only objects at 12 hr RA are above my eastern horizon. Then I know right away that in 1 hour on the clock, Mars will rise. This is easier than taking the degree difference and then dividing by 15 to get the time.

So through this system of DEC and RA (where RA rotates with Earth’s rotation), we have a celestial coordinate system so that any astronomer could go to another and say, “I got an e-mail this morning from someone who claims they see Planet X at DEC +34° 12′ 52″, RA 11 hr 53 min 33 sec. Can you check out those coordinates to confirm?”

That is how you use the coordinate system Stating, “Milky Way 27° Sagittarius” is fairly meaningless. However, because I am familiar with to what she is referring as well as these general claims, I will decipher the statement (after first explaining why it’s meaningless). First, because she states 27°, one could assume she is referring to DEC because there is no such thing as degrees in RA. Stating that something is at DEC 27° is like stating that a ship is at 27° latitude. Okay, latitude is nice … but I’m not about to search the entire circle of the globe at that latitude for the ship.

She narrows it down by saying Sagittarius. Unfortunately for Ms. Nazon, the northern-most part of Sagittarius lies just above the 12° mark. Southern-most is just below -45°. So, let’s assume she actually means -27° instead of 27°. Because it’s Sagittarius, we are limited to RA 17h45m to 20h30m.

From the context, she’s talking about the very center of the Milky Way, known as Sagittarius A* (pronounced “A-star”), or Sag A* for short (us astronomers like abbr.). This object, which is a super-massive black hole, is located at the coordinates DEC -29° 0′ 27.9″, RA 17 hr 45 min 40.045 sec. So even if we flip the sign for Ms. Nazon, she’s still 2° off, though not that big of a deal – I may be nit-picking here.

The second main reason why this claim shows Ms. Nazon knows little about structure is that our galaxy’s core has nothing to do with the universe. The universe couldn’t care less where our galaxy is nor where its core may be located. A galaxy is a grouping of stars, gas, dust, and dark matter, bound by mutual gravity. The universe is – by definition – “everything.” To claim that our galaxy’s center is the “Galactic Center of our universe” simply makes Ms. Nazon sound ignorant about the basic astronomy.

Oh, as to the creative energy flowing from the galaxy’s center … I’m going to leave that alone. It’s not worth commenting on other than to make a vague reference to Star Trek: The Animated Series.

To Infinity and Beyond!

“Now the concept of infinity and time has intrigued mathematicians, scientists, physicists and philosophers for eons. It was profound and very spiritual. On the number line with the center being zero, zero is never reached. To think that you can go infinitely in one direction and infinitely in another is not only profound but, it’s the truth. If that’s the case then, when we die or end, and when we are born and begin, is infinity. It’s a continuum of time. Since there is no end on the other side of zero… it is where everything happens, but didn’t.

“Our Galactic center at 27* Sagittarius is a black Hole…Is this where we find infinity?”

If you can understand what Ms. Nazon is saying for the first part of this, I congratulate you and I request that you explain it to me in the Comments section of this post.

As for the last sentence, as I explained above, the galactic center is at a DEC -29°, not 27°, and I think she’s mixing up her symbols with Sag A* and the little degree sign (°) on her “27.”

While you may not consider this to be an important point, it does speak to her lack of familiarity with the topic, and hence should speak to whether or not you want to pay her nearly $330 an hour for a phone consultation.

Real Particle Baths?

“During the Solstices the Galactic Center bathes us in energy. Real particle energy! Protons and Neutrons the DNA material that sustains life on Earth.”

Interesting claim. But profoundly meaningless. First, the center of our galaxy is very roughly 30,000 light-years away. That means that the fastest thing we know of – light – would take 30,000 years to get to us from there. So, perhaps Ms. Nazon is claiming that the Milky Way’s black hole is constantly spewing out material and so that 30,000 light-year distance -> time delay doesn’t matter.

Now, by definition, a black hole cannot emit particles (let’s ignore Hawking Radiation for this discussion). However, material falling into the black hole does emit radiation, and this radiation and any particles can be accelerated to speeds very close to that of light. So in that sense, Ms. Nazon is correct.

But, it’s this whole alignment with the solstices that’s meaningless. By definition, the Winter Solstice happens when the sun is at exactly RA 18 hr, and the Summer Solstice happens when the sun is at exactly RA 6 hr. That’s actually how the RA system is set up, to line up with the solstices and equinoxes.

Granted, 17 hr 45 min 40.045 sec is not that far off from 18 hr 00 min 00.000 sec. But it’s not the same. And this is ignoring that it’s a few degrees off in DEC. So let’s say she’s right – on the Winter Solstice, this event for some reason happens because the sun is only about 14 min away from the galactic center. If that’s so, then why doesn’t this happen for the ~2-4 week period surrounding it? There are a few days around there when the sun is in closer alignment with the galactic center.

And then the same thing for the Summer Solstice, except why would this bathing event happen when the sun is in the opposite part of the sky?

And then, if you think about looking at the galaxy in a top-down way – say, a flat plate representing the galaxy and then a grain of sand representing our entire solar system – why would the orientation of that grain of sand relative to the center of the plate make any difference in the larger picture?

Final Thoughts, Part 2

This post is shorter than the first because there were much less astronomy-related specifics in it.

This post focused mainly on Ms. Nazon’s sketchy new-agey astronomy-sounding claims and why to anyone who studies astronomy they are fairly meaningless and demonstrably insignificant. If you doubt what I’ve written, I suggest you do a little independent reading on your own on astronomical coordinate systems, large-scale structure of the universe, and how an apparent alignment between two objects would have any bearing on anything. I invite you to post questions you may have in the Comments section for clarification.

And I would ask that – even if you don’t believe me completely – you consider the lack of knowledge that Ms. Nazon has demonstrated on her website before you fork over $64.00 for an “E-Reading via email,” or $74.85 for a 15-minute phone reading (or $329.95 for a 1-hour reading).

September 7, 2009

Planet X and 2012: The “Institute for Human Continuity” Is NOT REAL


Introduction

I know I said I wouldn’t be doing another post until around October, but this is just really ticking me off, so I need to post about it. For those who don’t know, I listen to Coast to Coast AM, a paranormal radio show that lasts 4 hrs, in order to get ideas for blog posts. But now, people are calling into the show convinced that a movie promo is a real thing, and they’re getting worried. To me, this is incredibly irresponsible, so let’s talk about it.

All posts in this series:

The “Institute for Human Continuity”

I liked the movie Independence Day. I thought it was good, and I could suspend enough disbelief to enjoy it. But, the director, Roland Emmerich, has not followed up with movies that are as good. First there was Godzilla that got panned by the critics. And there was Day After Tomorrow. Now, there’s the 2012 movie due out this Fall (2009). Once again, he gets to destroy the White House, this time with CGI instead of models.

What does this have to do with the “Institute for Human Continuity?” Well, several months ago, an innocuous website appeared for them. They claimed that they’d been tracking Planet X for years, it’s going to cause all sorts of havoc on Earth when it comes by (in 2012), and that they’re running a lottery for people for spots in their safehouse.

It is a very slick website, and right at the top is a “REGISTER NOW FOR SURVIVAL LOTTERY.” It has movies of destruction, apparent doctors (Ph.D.s) who backup their claims and are involved in their project, a poll of “Which disaster scenario do you think will happen in 2012?” with “Planet X,” “Crustal Displacement,” and “Solar Activity” as the options (as of writing this), and for all intents and purposes it looks VERY convincing.

The only problem is that it’s all fake.

At the time it came up, there was NO disclaimer on the website. The only sign that it may be publicity for a movie was the little © 2009 Sony Pictures at the bottom of the website. In my righteous outrage, I sent them an e-mail saying that I thought it was irresponsible advertising to frighten people with such a website without a disclaimer.

Since then – I doubt it was due to my unanswered e-mail, but perhaps due to their own lawyers – they have made it a little more obvious that the site is to promote the 2012 movie. Unfortunately, that amounts to a small text at the bottom that states, “Explore the 2012 Movie Experience.” I searched their site for several minutes, and that was all I could find.

Irresponsible Advertising and Fear-Mongering

And it’s scaring people. “My daughter and I just saw a commercial for it on the History Channel and there was no indication that it’s fake. It must be real.” That was what a recent caller into the Coast to Coast AM episode I was listening just said. Others are just as convinced it’s real.

In my opinion, this is incredibly irresponsible advertising. But that’s really for a lawyer to decide. It’s using a popular myth and drumming it up, playing off of it in order to create more interest for their upcoming movie.

Final Thoughts

You may disagree with me. You may think I’m over-reacting to something that should – to any reasonable person – obviously be taken as a movie promo.

But it’s not being seen as that. People think it’s real because the popular culture thinks the end of the world is coming on December 21, 2012, and this only adds to that. Sony Pictures has not made it sufficiently clear that this is just a fake site in order to create interest in their movie. There comes a point where there’s personal responsibility for people viewing things on TV and the internet, but there also comes a point where corporations should be responsible for the fear they create.

November 9, 2008

Do *NOT* “Buy” Stars

Filed under: scams,terminology — Stuart Robbins @ 5:41 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Introduction

Christmas is coming and so I thought this would be a somewhat timely post (yes, I realize there are other winter holidays, and I myself am Jewish, but let’s be honest here – most presents are Christmas presents).  I am also experimenting with a slightly new format for each blog post, starting with this one, so please let me know what you think about it by posting in the Comments section.

The purpose of this blog post is:  Please, PLEASE, PLEASE, do NOT try to buy stars!

 

Background

Many years ago, a company started up called the “International Star Registry” (ISR).  A few years later, a copycat company started, called “Buy the Stars” (BtS).  Over the years, a few others have cropped up, such as “Star Namer,” or “Star Deed,” but I’m mainly going to address the first two.  The basic premise behind these companies is that if you pay them a certain amount of money, they will officially register a star with your name on it, or any name on it that you want.

 

What’s Actually Going On

They’re taking your money and sending you a piece of paper that with a little experimentation you could make in Photoshop or Illustrator or your graphics program of choice.  Seriously.  That’s about it.

The only officially recognized group that can name celestial objects is the International Astronomical Union, a group of astronomers from all over the world.  They’re the ones who classify objects (like planets vs. dwarf planets) and who name objects.  They are the only group in the world that astronomers actually listen to in terms of what’s called what.

When you send either star registry company money, they will pick out a generally very faint star, one that very likely cannot be seen without the use of a telescope (usually fainter than the planet Pluto).  The faintness of the star is alluded to on both sites since neither of them actually answer the question of, “Can I see my star?”  Rather, BtS answers the question of, “Will I be able to see the constellation?” while ISR has a discussion of Visual Magnitude (the brightness scale astronomers use, where larger numbers are fainter objects).

The ISR will then compile it in their book, Your Place in the Cosmos, put it in their own database, and that’s the extent of the registration process.  However, they are at least reasonably forward about the officiality of their service, stating:

Q:  Will the scientific community recognize my star name?

A:  No.  We are a private company that provides Gift Packages.  Astronomers will not recognize your name because your name is published only in our Star catalog.  We periodically print a book called Your Place in the Cosmos © which lists the stars that we have named.

BtS is not as straight-forward, and in my own personal opinion, they are deceitful.  They do not tell you that your name will not be recognized; in answer to the question, “Do I really get a star named after me?” they state (emphasis mine):

BuyTheStars is an official star registration company and all records of stars named and sold are sent to the international star name and registry in Dallas, TX . Once you have purchased and named your star, the details are sent and permanently recorded in the database. Once this process has been completed, we verify the billing information provided to us and forward it to the international database in Dallas. Once completed, a certificate (and package) is sent out to you (or the addressee) detailing the stars [sic] location and new name. This name will be the new internationally recognized name for the star under the coordinates specified on the certificate. You can then be satisfied knowing that you (or the persons whom you named the star(s) after) will join the thousands who have already secured their place in the heavens.

Again, for clarity, this “internationally recognized name” is only recognized by their company.  It is not recognized by anyone who actually studies astronomy.

In addition, and this is more of an aside, you really should NOT buy stuff off of a website that does not know English grammar.  The apostrophe is missing in “detailing the stars location” in the text I quoted above.  In their “Why name a star with us?” page, they used the wrong homophone: “So, if your looking …” using “your” instead of “you’re.”  This may seem like a silly nit-pick, but seriously, if they write like a middle or high school student, why should you trust them with your money?

 

What’s the Harm?

This is often a question asked that’s more related to “alternative” medicine pseudoscience, like, “What’s the harm of homeopathy even if it’s just water like you say?”

The harm of “buying” these stars is two-fold.

(1)  They take your money.  The cheapest “package” on the ISR is $54.00, and the cheapest from BtS is $54.95 (at the time of writing this).  For an average family of 4, that’s half a week’s groceries, or maybe a tank of gas (as I’m writing this).  It’s also the cost of a nicely illustrated astronomy book, or maybe 2-3 paperbacks.  Or a trip to the zoo, or an amusement park.  Or a nice dinner out.  If you’re looking for a present for someone, please buy something that’s more meaningful.

(2)  Sentimentality from those who think they’re really getting a star named after them.  What I mean here is something like the following story:  Two people have been married for over 50 years, and one of them dies .  The one left is devastated, and hears from a friend that they can get a bright, shining star in the sky named after their loved one for all to see.  So they buy a package.  Later, perhaps, even a few years later, they go to a public planetarium or observatory and ask the projector operator or telescope operator to see “their” star.  What’s the operator supposed to do?  Tell them they wasted their money, they don’t actually have a star; or try to find the tiny faint object, indistinct from its neighbors; or lie to the person and point out a nice bright object and say, “Yep, that’s it, there’s ‘Fred.'”

My own personal experience with this rip-off is that my high school, a year after I graduated, “bought” three stars for students who had done well on some national test or something (I honestly don’t remember the exact reason).  That’s right, folks, public school funds, at least over $165 worth (the cost of 2 new textbooks), were spent on this.

 

Final Thoughts

Seriously, the bottom-line here is that this is a scam.  I’ll be very careful here, though – it is not a “scam” in the legal sense (though I think BtS comes very very close) because they do not actually promise that astronomers will recognize your purchase.  Rather, it is a “scam” in the sense that it is very misleading to the public, with people being led to think that it is now an official name that will is “recorded ‘forever’ in existence,” to quote another blogger on WordPress.

The only “official” way these are recognized is within their own company and their own products.  They take your money, enter something in a database, and send you a pretty piece of paper and maybe a booklet and a starchart with “your” star circled.  Please do NOT give them any more money, unless you want to pay for a pretty piece of paper.

But, you don’t need to take my word for it:

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