Here’s the best way to buy your Valentine the Moon and Stars

lunar image: NASA As Valentines day approaches, promotions promising to name a star or own a piece of another planet are on the rise. “Own your own parcel of land on the Moon, and have the certificate to prove it” proclaims one. Another offers deeds to land on Mercury, Venus, or Mars by the acre. These services join the many star registries which date back to the early 1980s at least. Packages usually include a certificate and map and cost as little as $12 but upgrades such as frames, wallet sized certificates, personalized Christmas ornaments, jewelry, and plush toys drive up the cost by hundreds. Even with the the maps provided by the company in hand, don’t expect to walk outside and spot your star. With millions of packages sold through the years and only about 5,000 stars (naked-eye) visible stars, your investment is likely to return something that will only ever see on paper. One service I tried returned a magnitude 13.6 star, which requires a sizable telescope and a very dark location to see. It is about 1000 times dimmer than the faintest star visible with the naked eye even darker rural/suburban transition skies in our area. Is this real? In a word, no. The stars and lunar or planetary landscapes are real enough and some services provide enough information on the certificate to to find it using tools like Google Moon . But don’t expect presenters at the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center or any other astronomer to be able to find the star named for your valentine. These are fun but are not recognized by anyone outside of the company selling them. With multiple companies selling the same inventory, your gift may not be as unique as advertised. Though with 9.4 billion acres of lunar landscape, and 1.1 billion stars available from official star catalogs, chances are better. Each company is careful to include language deep in the terms of service or frequently asked questions, noting that the product isn’t officially recognized. Many note that the packages are “novelty items”. Purchases from the The International Star Registry are recorded in the book “Your Place in the Cosmos which is published and registered with the US Copyright Office.” according to the company. While this might sound official, anyone with $45 and a few minutes can register any work, published or unpublished, with the copyright office . The official version Stars as well as features on planets and moons are officially named by the International Astronomical Union, a professional organization of astronomers which meets yearly on the subject. Members of the International Astronomical Union vote on resolutions at the 2006 General Assembly Meeting Ownership of the Moon and other celestial bodies was addressed by the 1967 United Nations Outer Space Treaty , signed by 133 countries. It declares them to be of “common heritage of mankind” and that no state or organization may claim ownership. Evolving Space Law A growing number of countries and commercial enterprises have gained the ability to land on the Moon in recent years. China continues its robotic exploration of the lunar surface begun in 2013. Additional lander and rover missions are planned by the NASA and other space agencies in Europe Russia, India, and Japan, as well as private companies such as SpaceX and Germany based PTScientists are planned in the coming years. This prompted Congress to pass the “ One Small Step to Protect Human Heritage in Space Act ” last year. The law which took effect on December 31, 2020, directs NASA and its contractors and partners to follow and continue to maintain “best practices related to Apollo historic lunar landing site artifacts.” Spacey alternatives for your valentine. Free service like Starcle will pick a star for you and provide a free printable certificate. Free printable maps are also available each month from SkyMaps.com . Or visit e-commerce websites like etsy which feature thousands of hand made astronomy inspired jewelry and other items . The Free Staracle service will select a star for you or your valentine and provides a free downloadable certificate.

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