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Who Names the Stars? – Pacific Standard

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The International Astronomical Union has established a committee to finalize a list of official star names. Some companies offer unofficial naming rights for purchase. But the voices of certain communities are often left behind.

By accident of Earth’s 23.5-degree tilt and the specific geography of our view of space, amateur astronomers and travelers who find themselves lost in the Northern hemisphere have long searched for Ursa Major, the great bear, whose torso is formed by the conspicuous Big Dipper. Amid the pandemonium of the night sky, the Dipper moonlights as outer space’s guide, revealing the locations of more obscure stars and constellations. Draw an imaginary line to form the ladle’s far edge from bottom to top, and Polaris, alpha Ursae Minoris, the North Star, is sixth lengths of that line—a 540-light-year slip of the finger—away. Draw an imaginary line down the dipper’s handle, and you can find the constellation Hercules in one direction and Gemini in the other. And, if you pull out your binoculars and keep your sights trained nearby the Dipper itself, you can find a heavenly body invisible to the naked eye, and yet, somehow, close to home: the official star of the state of Delaware.

The Delaware Diamond, of course, hasn’t always been so named. In 1999, the Delaware Museum of Natural History held a contest to name a star after it purchased the naming rights from the International Star Registry, an Illinois-based company that had been incessantly offering celestial naming rights on radio buys around Christmas for over two decades. A 12-year-old won the contest, and, in 2000, at the behest of Delaware’s lieutenant governor, perhaps desperate for an act of bipartisan consensus, the general assembly put a bill forward to recognize it as the official star of the state.

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