Can I see my own star?
Star registries are ways that you can "buy" or "name" a star. There are several reasons why you'd want to do this, but in nearly every case, people want to know if they can actually see their star with a telescope. In most cases you can - depending on your location and time of year, of course. In this blog I'll show you how you can find yours.
Buying your own star
For a while now, star registry companies have been selling limited naming rights or limited name association to stars. This doesn't mean you own the star, of course, and any name you give it isn't official in any way. But sometimes, that isn't important. People have very valid, personal reasons for associating their name, or more often, someone else's name, to a star.
What's more, ownership or names registered by star registry companies are not official in any way. The International Astronomical Union will not recognise the name or title, but I don't think that's the point of the exercise.
I've got a star, can I see it?
It's not one of the more common questions we get asked, but
one that's of immense importance to some people, is how do they see the star
that they've named?
The star registry company supplies a photo
The registry company I've been looking at provides a photo of the star. Actually, rather than them providing a photo of the star, it's a link to Google Sky, a stitched photo of the whole sky.
You can locate your star, zoom in, out and pan around to see what's nearby.
This is really useful for a couple of reasons. First, it
helps you find the star yourself if you have a telescope. But second, it
assures you that the star actually exists.
This might be all you need. You know the star exists, and you can see it in a photo. But most people do want to actually go outside and look at the star through a telescope.
The number of the certificate doesn't really help
The number on the certificate, as far as I can tell, doesn't
have any meaning outside the registry company. It's simply an entry in the
Stars are listed by various bodies in catalogues. Because there are pretty much an infinite number of stars, it's impossible to catalogue them all. Most existing catalogues start with the bright ones and work down in brightness until they have enough.
Star registration companies don't normally deal with bright stars, so their stars won't appear on many catalogues. Don't worry though, the star will appear in some.
The largest official catalogue I know of is the Tycho catalogue, which contains data for literally millions of stars. This one is most likely to have the star.
A smaller one is the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) catalogue. This one is particularly important because it provides the basis for most go-to telescopes. There's a faint possibility that there may be an SAO catalogue for the star.
I want to see the star for myself
The whole point of this exercise is to get you looking at your star, not on a computer, but through an actual telescope. No other experience is going to be as rewarding or as visceral.
Locating the star
Once you have registered a star, you'll receive some information about it. The certificate will identify the star through a number or code, which is not really useful, but there will be a location, which is given as a pair of co-ordinates.
Let's look closer at these co-ordinates. They'll be given in
two groups of numbers, called right ascension (RA) and declination
(Dec). These co-ordinates are just like map references in your hiking maps, but they're for locations on the inside of a sphere, rather than on the ground.
The numbers for RA are given in hours, minutes and seconds (normally to two or three decimal places. It'll look something like this:
12h 24m 15.21s
This number provides the direction the named star is away from the celestial pole - which is the point around which all stars appear to rotate.
Numbers for declination look a bit similar to RA numbers, but they're given in degrees, minutes and seconds. They'll look something like this:
-23° 12' 44.85"
The number show how far the named star is away from the celestial pole.
You'll be using these co-ordinates for the next couple of steps.
Simulate the star field
Before you run to the telescope, you might like to find out roughly what it is going to show you. This can be important, because one star field looks very much like another, different telescopes and eyepieces show different magnifications, and (worst) you don't know what orientation your field will be.
- you don't actually need to do this now, you can come back and do it later if you have trouble finding your star.
There are a few different software packages out there that you can use here. Essentially, you will tell the software details about your telescope, eyepiece, and where you're going to be pointed. It will then show you (pretty accurately) what you should expect to see.
I use Stellarium a lot, so that's how I'll explain it.
Stellarium is a free Windows program that runs on your computer. You could use other programs or websites such as Cartes du Ceil, the field simulator at www.12dstring.me.uk, or any one of many
In Stellarium, first use the search to zero in on the co-ordinates. Use the "position" tab to search for RA and dec co-ordinates.
The view that you will see on the screen is roughly the same as the one your telescope is going to give you. Check that the co-ordinates are still correct (you may have to go to them again) and then click on the crosshair button:This shows where the centre of the field is. The closest star to the crosshair will probably be your star. It probably won't be the brightest star in the fields, but say hello.
If you like, you can compare this simulation with the Google Sky image to check it's right. Remember that the different images are going to be zoomed to different extents, so it might be very tricky to recognise similar stars in each images. I've shown an example here, where, after quite a hunt, I've found corresponding stars in both images. As you can see, both the magnification and orientation were different.
I do have to repeat that this can be very tricky.
Find the star using a telescope on a go-to mount
Finding a single star in the sky is a challenge. It's not quite as difficult as finding a single grain of sand on a beach, but it's close. You're going to need all the help you can get. I would strongly recommend a telescope on a go-to mount. With this, you can slew directly to the co-ordinates given on the certificate.
Set up your go-to telescope and synchronise it to the sky. Consult your telescope's manual to find how this is done. I would recommend that you use a three-star alignment, as this is the most accurate.
Then slew your telescope directly to the co-ordinates of your star. Again, consult the manual for the mount to find how this is done. Not many people us this feature, so this might not be very user-friendly.
- if there are negative signs in the declination, that means your star is in the Southern Hemisphere. You will need to enter this negative number to find the star correctly.
Once you've got this done, and your telescope is focused nicely, have a good look using a low-power eyepiece (probably something like a 25mm). You'll see a bunch of stars. If your go-to mount is tracking correctly, the stars won't drift out of view.
But how can you tell it's the right one? There's normally lots of stars in the field of view.
- most visual telescopes use a right-angle to make viewing easier. Some of these right-angles use prisms, and some use mirrors. If you have the mirror type, what you see might be flipped right-to-left. You'll have to bear this in mind when comparing what you see with the Google Sky image. (The easiest way to figure if you have a flipped image is to point your telescope at a car durng the day and try to read the number plate.)
- the go-to slewing on your mount may not be perfectly accurate, especially if you've done a one-star alignment. Try to slew to a bright star nearby first to see how well you're slewing.
- you can change the speed that your mount slews by setting it on the hand controller or phone app that controls the scope. This will help a lot when trying to search around where the scope is pointed.
Check your view
Compare what you see with the Google Sky view the company gave you. This view simply uses the same co-ordinates as you've just given your telescope. You might be able to recognise patterns in the stars and find your star that way. Normally, the star you're after will be brighter than most in the field.
If you're having trouble, and you haven't already done so, go back to the simulate your star field section. That may help.
Find the star using a telescope on a manual mount
This is going to be difficult, and I wouldn't recommend it at all unless your star is very close to bright star that you can easily identify and find with the telescope. It would also be very useful that your mount has slow-motion controls on both axes.
You're going to be developing and using a time-honoured skill called "star hopping". This is a very useful skill in astronomy. What you're going to be doing is picking your way from a star you can find to your target, using landmark stars on the way.
- the most important thing to do before using a finderscope is that you check the finderscope is correctly aligned with the telescope. See my article about that.
Start your trek by planning a road map. Stellarium (or similar) will be very usfeul here, especially if you have simulated the field your telescope shows you (see above). That way, you'll know not to pick a landmark that is out of your view.
Start with a known star that you can see through the finderscope. Then plan hops you will need using Stellarium, making sure each hop is less than the width of the field. That way you can hop from your first star, using the landmarks to your ultimate target.
It sounds simple - but it's not. If you lose your way you will have to start over again. You probably won't be able to do it the first time, unless your target star is close to your first landmark star.
- remember that the Earth continues to spin, so the stars will drift out of view if you look away for more than a few seconds.
- remember that your telescope might use a mirror diagonal, which means your image will be reversed.
To be honest, I feel a little conflicted about the idea of a company selling something they don't own to someone who also can't own it. It makes me cringe a little.
But being a son, a husband and a father, I completely understand the desire to honour a loved one like this, as well as respecting a number of other reasons for associating a specific star with a memory.
However, none of that is my business. Suffice to say, buying a star can link that star with a memory, and I respect that. I also understand that there can be joy for people in being able to physically lay eyes on the very star that is forever "theirs".
And so I wish star owners clear skies, and peace.