Can you buy naming rights to space? International Astronomical Union says “No” …again

Doubtful News has previously covered services which claim to provide the ability to name or claim objects in space. This week, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) has spoken out against another commercial venture offering naming rights, but the IAU is getting some backlash on this one.

Mars Crater-Naming Campaign Sparks an International Blowup (NBC News):

Uwingu makes clear that the names carry no official sanction — nevertheless, the idea of taking in money for placing names on a map irked the IAU.

“Such initiatives go against the spirit of free and equal access to space, as well as against internationally recognized standards,” the IAU said Tuesday in a statement. “Hence no purchased names can ever be used on official maps and globes.”

The IAU’s ire on the topic of the selling of naming rights is not without a long, justified history. The IAU has even issued PSA-style information pages for those looking to purchase star names, lunar property or other astronomical objects (Disclosure: I have a family member who was taken by one of those lunar property companies).

Uwingu does not sell astronomical property, and participation in their program only affects their unofficial, in-house map. As Dr. Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy has noted (of the company’s exoplanet initiative), “these names are not official—they are not assigned to specific planets, and only the International Astronomical Union can make these official.”

Additionally, Uwingu is irked by the IAU statements, many being IAU members themselves, and the company having donated to astronomical organizations including The SETI Institute and Astronomers Without Borders.

And Uwingu has replied (Forbes):

Doug Griffith, co-founder of Uwingu, hit back with a bizarrely worded attack on the IAU.

“The public is ready to move on with actual human exploration of these places and does not need to be a part of the IAU’s self-proclaimed official system,” he told me in an email. “At some point science is supposed to be used to achieve something beneficial for humankind.

“The IAU needs to evolve beyond being the self-licking ice cream cone of the scientific community and recognize that as long as its existence is merely to gratify its own elitist sense of ownership of all things space, it is not going to play a role in the new wave of space exploration. That will be done by others who recognize that science exists to benefit the world, not the scientists.

“The IAU is no better positioned to tell the public how to name exoplanets or craters on Mars than the biological community is situated to tell people how to name their babies.”

That last bit especially gets a little dramatic. On the front page of Uwingu, they state, “The first planet discovered outside our solar system is named ‘PSR 81257+12 B.’ Not so catchy, is it?”

But by that same argument, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) is not situated to name substances such as “2-bromo-2-chloro-1,1,1-trifluoroethane,” the IUPAC label for halothane. No, it’s not catchy, but the IUPAC name does impart information about the thing being labeled, as does the IAU’s nomenclature system. Then again, neither system precludes the eventual adoption of a shorter name by the public.

One thing we really don’t need is to be promoting a “Scientists versus The Public” view of this matter.

See also:

An extended relative had really sweet intentions for us. I hadn't the heart to explain how this works to her.

This is not from the Uwingu group (they do not pretend to sell property). A relative had really sweet intentions for us, and I hadn’t the heart to explain how this works (or rather, doesn’t) to her.



  2 comments for “Can you buy naming rights to space? International Astronomical Union says “No” …again

  1. busterggi
    March 12, 2014 at 9:05 PM

    Ah, but what if the seller is from another planet?

  2. Karin
    March 13, 2014 at 10:36 AM

    The scientists with their unattractive names and whatnot are holding us back from making Space Real Estate truly lucrative. But one day, we, the moneyed People, shall win! Capitalism baby. Planet Starbucks; Microsoft Galaxy; the Samuel Adams Nebulae. The Scientists vs. The Public narratives work very well toward one eventual effect.

    Since Uwingu makes clear that the naming is not official, I won’t hold it against them. That co-founder’s response is a little worrisome though…

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