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Inaccuracy in reporting astronomy and science
edstrick
post Oct 5 2007, 09:52 AM
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I keep hearing the news as the asteroid was RENAMED.. Uh.. I don't think it ever had a name... just a number.

"Who is Number 2?
"You are Number 7307."
"I am not a number, I am a free asteroid!"

It's not just the press...yesterday, driving home from work, a radio news item on the San Diego sinkhole/landslide detachment pit or whatever. A local government official "blamed it on gravity".

Well... duh!
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Stu
post Jan 4 2008, 06:31 AM
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Don't know if any other UK viewers caught it, but reporting this story on ITV's 6.30pm news last night, the gorgeous but occasionally slightly scientifically-challenged Nina Hussein said that the 180LY distant star was "in a galaxy far, far away..."

Wow, how did we miss a galaxy just 180LY away?!?!?!?! blink.gif rolleyes.gif


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Stu
post Jan 4 2008, 06:53 AM
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Off topic a wee bit, I know, but doesn't seem worth starting a new thread...

Just saw this page up on Space.com...

Attached Image


Can't help thinking that advertising an online astrologer on one of the world's most viewed space-related websites is just... oh, what's the word... ah yes, that's it: stoopid...!!! rolleyes.gif


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tty
post Jan 4 2008, 07:03 AM
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QUOTE (Stu @ Jan 4 2008, 07:31 AM) *
Wow, how did we miss a galaxy just 180LY away?!?!?!?! blink.gif rolleyes.gif


We didn't, it's called the Milky Way, and 180 LY is certainly far, far away.... wink.gif
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ngunn
post Jan 4 2008, 01:42 PM
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QUOTE (Stu @ Jan 4 2008, 06:31 AM) *
Don't know if any other UK viewers caught it


Yes. They just can't stop themselves. Every astronomy-related story has to be introduced by some sci-fi cliche. The fact that in this case the choice of phrase has the effect of reinforcing an especially persistent strand of public ignorance is clearly of no concern to the news editors. 'Far, far away' is (of course) anywhere north of Watford, and a Galaxy is a large family car.
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Mongo
post Jan 5 2008, 06:10 PM
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QUOTE (ngunn @ Jan 4 2008, 01:42 PM) *
'Far, far away' is (of course) anywhere north of Watford, and a Galaxy is a large family car.

I thought that 'Far Far Away' is where Shrek went to meet the in-laws?

Bill
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nprev
post Jan 5 2008, 06:23 PM
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I'm waiting to see what will happen if the potential Martian asteroid impact becomes likely enough for the mass media to get excited about. The sheer torrent of stupidity would be entertaining indeed...and depressing.

BTW, here in LA on the CBS AM radio news station I keep hearing these annoying commercials for some outfit called the "International Star Registry" that purports to name a star for your friend or loved one for a nominal fee (fifty bucks, I think). I know that this is complete @#$%, but of course the general public doesn't. IIRC, this group or another got sued by (I think) Sky & Telescope, and the plantiffs lost!

Still think that the IAU should get into that business and generate official star names for a nominal fee, then use the proceeds for astronomy-related grants, scholarships, etc. Much better than lining the pockets of these bloody con-artists.


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hendric
post Jan 6 2008, 04:09 AM
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Will all the deep surveys going starting up, I'm surprised nobody has started an International Galaxy Naming company. Hell, maybe I should...

Name-a-Galaxy! Who would want a single star, when you can have a whole island universe named just for you or your loved ones! Tiered pricing, starting with ellipticals ($25), going up to spirals ($50) and barred spirals($100), and ending with the choicest: Galaxy Mergers! ($250)


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nprev
post Jan 6 2008, 04:31 AM
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Oh, crap...dude, PLEASE no!!!! sad.gif I could live with a star officially named "Mildred P. Snordwinkle", but a whole damned galaxy???

Does make you wonder if this scam has occurred elsewhere in other times, in other civilizations. Maybe we live in the alien equivalent of the Mildred P. Snordwinkle Galaxy (translation permitting), which name precedes our own moniker of the Milky Way...which, in its way, might just serve as the ultimate proof of Mach's Principle...


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Stu
post Jan 6 2008, 08:38 AM
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At first glance this is quite an amusing subject, I know, but for us "community astronomers" the whole star-naming thing is a nightmare, and worse than that it actually causes some people quite a lot of hurt.

Several large national retailers were offering "Name A Star" gift boxes for Christmas presents this year in the UK, and I had - as usual - a dozen or so phone calls, or conversations with people in the street or at work, with people either asking me if they should name a star after a loved one, or telling me they'd already bought one for someone, and I had to tell them that, as lovely an idea as this is, it is a total waste of money, because no-one has the right to offer star names for sale. It's not illegal, but I could set myself up in business and charge people to have a blade of grass by Kendal Castle or a grain of sand on Arnside beach named after them or a loved one and it would be just as "official" as offering to name a star for them. Some people take this news in their stride, and just decide not to go ahead with the present and buy a book token or something, others get angry that they might have been conned. The ones who have already "bought a star" are usually either gutted or angry, or both.

But worse are the phone calls I get from people at other times of the year from people who want to know if I can come around to where they live and show them, and/or their family, the star they have had named after someone who's died. I've had children calling asking me to show them where the star they named after their mother or father is, grandparents asking where the star is they've named after a dead grandchild, husbands and wives wanting to see the star named after their deceased partner, it's just awful to have to tell them that... well, to have to tell them the truth.

This really annoys me, and has done for years, because people buy these "stars" in good faith, often for a loved one as a romantic gift, thinking they can take them outside on a clear night and, standing there arm in arm or hand in hand, show them "their star". That’s not possible because the stars on offer are all far, far below naked eye visibility. Other people “buy star names” in memory of someone who's died, thinking it will somehow immortalise them. It doesn't; that star would only bear the buyer’s chosen name on a list in that company's database, not on any official star catalogue or registry that astronomers or scientists use. Patrick Moore will never mention “Irene’s Star” on The Sky at Night, Neil deGrasse Tyseon will never mention “Tiddles’ Star” in one of his books because the names are 100000% unofficial.

One of the companies does say this on its website: “Will astronomers call the star by its new name? No. In professional astronomical and scientific circles the star you name will be referred to either by telescope co-ordinates or by identity number.” but of course it's buried away in the small print in these packages and people have already paid for the thing by then, so it's too late.

So yes, this is amusing at first thought, but when you've had someone break down in tears at a "skywatch" event when they've found out that the star they "named" after their beloved grandmother isn't actually theirs at all, it isn't quite so funny.

And that's why I hate the whole star-naming thing. It's just wrong.


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nprev
post Jan 6 2008, 02:13 PM
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sad.gif ...thanks for the wake-up call, Stu. Did not realize that there was sometimes such a brutal emotional toll from this chicanery.


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lyford
post Jan 6 2008, 06:27 PM
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In my wild and impetuous youth I did this for my fiancee.... found out the real deal a few years after and was quite embarrassed. Still, it IS named after her, but the name is just not recognized officially by the IAS....

I agree with you 100% about the scamminess of the companies involved, especially if you are expecting to pay for an actual registration service. I would definitely steer people away if they have not done so yet. But if someone has already done it, I would phrase my critique a little more carefully before crushing their fantasy - since the act is undoubtedly tied in to emotions of some strength.

We often go to a campsite and have special names for "our trail" - but that name is never going to be recognized by the Forest Service. The hopeless romantics among us have "our song," etc, so "our star" is not that off base.

If you view them as more like the astronomical equivalent of the guy that goes around Saturday nights selling roses to all the couples during dinner, it makes more sense. Or else think of the fee as being paid to have someone record and remember that star in the name of someone.... just like "our tree."

You do get a framed plaque.... and unlike selling real estate on the moon, I never really expected to get something REAL, any more than if I took my family to Medieval Times and was expecting to see "real" knights. The romantic and entertainment value was worth the cost, even if it was based upon a fiction, and many people pay much more for their frivolous date night excesses. The geek side of me is VERY upset that it is not the actual official agency recording, but I don't think that matters as much to most folks.

I am not defending the practice of the companies, but rather think we can spin it a little better for the "victims." (Actually I am just trying to rationalize for myself since I fell for it...)


EDIT

PS - this whole discussion reminds my of Neil DeGrasse Tyson's essay, "Naming Rights."


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Stu
post Jan 6 2008, 07:44 PM
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I try not to crush people when I tell them the truth; I can actually - believe it or not - be very subtle and sensitive when I need to be. wink.gif

But I can't agree that this practice is anything other than a scam and anything less than cruel in many cases. The differemce between romantically naming a trail or a rock or something is that these Star Registry companies very deliberately and shamelessly market their services in such a way as to look very official, and they deliberately target kind and good-hearted people in their advertising, playing on people's desire to express love for family or partners, and suggesting that their deed will somehow immortalise the person the star has been bought for.

We often go to a campsite and have special names for "our trail" - but that name is never going to be recognized by the Forest Service. The hopeless romantics among us have "our song," etc, so "our star" is not that off base.

I think it's a long way off, sorry. These companies are taking money off people for something they don't own the rights to, which is just wrong. Seriously, if you'd seen the looks on people's faces that I have when I've had to tell them that no, actually their grandmother or dead husband isn't "up there" for all to see - and these are people who've come to me for an honest answer because they've suspected the truth, I don't just shout it out without being asked - then you wouldn't think this so harmless.

Still, it IS named after her, but the name is just not recognized officially by the IAS....

Actually, it isn't. It bears her name in that company's database, and that's all. No-one else who looks at the night sky - from now until the Sun swells into a red giant, and beyond - will ever call it by her name. If you really want to immortalise her, you great softie, do it the old fashioned way - discover an asteroid or a comet and name that after her. biggrin.gif


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lyford
post Jan 6 2008, 08:31 PM
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QUOTE (Stu @ Jan 6 2008, 11:44 AM) *
Still, it IS named after her, but the name is just not recognized officially by the IAS....
Actually, it isn't. It bears her name in that company's database, and that's all. No-one else who looks at the night sky - from now until the Sun swells into a red giant, and beyond - will ever call it by her name. If you really want to immortalise her, you great softie, do it the old fashioned way - discover an asteroid or a comet and name that after her. biggrin.gif

Well, that's what I meant - I named it unofficially and paid too much to have someone print a pretty plaque and keep track of the coordinates in their database. That's how I can rationalize it now. smile.gif

But I know that the companies only make money by giving the impression that they are official, which is at the very least unethical. It is a scam.

And as for discovering and then naming, that didn't work out for Herschel and George's Star, did it? Or Xena and Gabrielle.... *Sigh* Or maybe I am misinformed on that as well.

Stu, I know I got nothing to stand on, but I was young at the time. I am not disagreeing with your argument, just telling my story. biggrin.gif


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nprev
post Jan 6 2008, 08:46 PM
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Hate to say it, but the continuing & widespread deceptive practices committed by these parties really can only be redressed by the IAU getting into the business and driving them out of it. 'Star naming' clearly isn't going to go away of its own accord; the only way to make it something real (yes, I do use the term loosely) for people is to have the IAU assign star names, which at least would have some sort of enduring status.

Of course, nobody's gonna call, for example, SAO 133390 "Bill Smith's Star" except the person's loved ones; still, it's a trivial effort to record the moniker, and who knows; someday, it might well become a true memorial if the record survives & the star becomes important in some way. As a charitable act and, happily, a smart business move, the IAU could accept a significantly smaller fee for the service (by not providing the claptrap props) and thereby drive these <unspeakably obscene epithet/noun>s out of business for good.

You got my back up on this, Stu; it was heartbreaking to hear that you've encountered people who have been emotionally injured by these bastards, to say nothing of ripped off. mad.gif It damn sure isn't right, but this is all I can think of to fix it since court challenges to the 'industry' have failed.

EDIT: I went here: http://www.iau.org/CONTACT_US.25.0.html --and sent this:



Sir or madam, I am a member of the online forum unmannedspaceflight.com, and recently the obnoxious new 'industry' of naming stars by numerous companies was a topic. One of our members, who is a local observational astronomy popularizer, told us that some people he'd encountered were literally heartbroken to discover that a star that they'd "named" for a deceased relative had no official standing. Clearly, these unsavory firms are not only deceitful, but also actually causing emotional damage.

Therefore, I propose that the IAU should begin its own star-naming service in order to end this shameful, and apparently global, exploitation of the general public. This could be easily done in a Web-based schema by providing a random star from the SAO or other surveys and subsequently recording the chosen name in a database. The current star-naming companies provide elaborate certificates, etc. in order to justify their fees (which seem to be on the order of US$50), but an IAU service of this nature--minus the accoutrements as described-- could charge considerably less while providing an officially sanctioned name for the object. This is in fact the goal of these well-meaning but uninformed people.

Given the apparently large market for this service, the funds acquired could be used for charitable endevours such as grants and scholarships for students in the space sciences. Certainly this would be a far better application of the results of this phenomenon than the current situation, which merely enriches unscrupulous opportunists at the financial and emotional expense of a great many people, and furthermore casts the entire field of astronomy in a bad light. Thank you for your attention.


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