Staracle: A Free Star-Naming Service

"Name a star" businesses are approaching their peak with the holidays. But since giving stars personal names is unofficial anyway, you might as well do it for free.

"Name a star" certificate

Certificate for named star.
Marc Necker

Every once in a while, someone with a star-naming certificate shows up for one of the guided tours I give at the Sternwarte observatory in Stuttgart, Germany. They want to see "their" star. I know what they mean: they’ve usually paid a fee to some company to “name” a star — a name that’s unfortunately never recognized anywhere in any formal or official sense. I usually play along, especially if the star was named for a kid: we take out a big sky atlas and look the star up by its coordinates. It's even a little educational, and they’re happy to have seen their star.

By charging money to “name” stars, these companies are basically cheating their customers out of their money. (Though the International Astronomical Union recently standardized 212 star names, they have issued a warning against buying star names.) Yet there’s nothing inherently bad about naming stars. When a colleague asked me a few years ago where he could name a star for his nephew, I realized that people want that personal connection to the sky — even when they know that it’s not going to be officially recognized anywhere.

That was when the idea for a free star-naming website was born. I started playing around with Google Sky to see how well it can visualize star catalogues. It turns out: quite well! After half a year of experimenting and programming in my spare time, the site Staracle.com went live in the spring of 2011.

Star-naming fact sheet

Star-naming factsheet. (Click to enlarge)
Marc Necker

The site’s database contains almost the full UCAC3 catalog — that's some 100 million stars to choose from! Every star has a profile page, and when it is named, it can also be given a dedication. The star-naming certificate can be customized in many ways, and it can be downloaded directly from the star's profile page.

Over the years, many new features have found their way onto Staracle, such as a personal star blog and the ability to name multiple stars under one account, which makes it more convenient for all of the teachers who have named stars for their students, or for the grandparents who have named stars for their grandchildren.

Staracle isn’t the only website that takes free star naming seriously. The German website sterntaufe.astronomie.at fulfills the same purpose — you'll even get to download a photo of your star.

Unofficially naming a star creates a connection to the sky, and it’s only a shame that companies would take advantage of customers by charging a fee for something that never becomes official. I believe that this free star-naming service makes many people happy. And even if a name isn’t formally recognized, it still makes for a unique and personal gift.

3 thoughts on “Staracle: A Free Star-Naming Service

  1. ctj

    honestly, promoting any form of “star naming” is no different than promoting astrology. even if it’s free, it promotes ignorance and undermines astronomy. free or not, “unofficial” or not, this “service” will merely result in more anxious parents showing up at star parties and insisting on someone pointing a telescope at their child’s star. and they take it out on you if “their” star isn’t visible, or can’t be found, or isn’t even real.

    2000 years ago, there was a prevalent belief that a new star was created in the sky when someone was born. this star-naming (or star-claiming) nonsense lives on today, and no surprise that popular interest peaks during the hanukwanzmas season.

  2. AB

    Yeah… OK, it is kinda nice as a symbolic gesture, and I did so in memory of a loved one. But it’s still a bit of a racket for you to promote this as ‘free’ and decry the charging of money to name stars, and then push all these ‘premium’ things on the site, like personalized images, or a readable-size version of the star chart. Sure, it’s only $5, which means people won’t balk at the cost, which means you’re still making money off it. Let me guess, someone has to pay for the server costs.
    AND, the basic “certificate” print is really muddy — you have greyish and purplish lettering in a very thin font with small print, doesn’t show up well at all. How about at least improving the typesetting a bit.
    (FYI, I got an 8-9ish magnitude star next to a very well-known one, so I hope I will actually be able to see it in my 70mm scope. And it provided some distraction in a period of grief, so, thanks.)

    1. Chandler

      Right. The star naming isn’t free when you are spending money anyway.
      Also, how are the stars named? We named a star with one of the star naming companies, International Star Registry, and even though it was not cheap, the package was really impressive with a big parchment certificate with calligraphy and they publish all of the names in a book so it lasts for centuries. They were transparent that its not recognized by the IAU and I don’t care if astronomers wont use the names. It’s really a nice feeling and it’s comforting.

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