The observatory is often asked to find stars “purchased” by members of the public in memory of departed loved ones. Over the years we have helped many families to find their stars, running private viewing sessions and focusing our big telescopes for them. Our volunteers always make the evenings memorable and the evenings never fail to be poignant but they could be so much more meaningful.
Let me explain.
I won’t dwell on the purchase itself itself except to say two things. Firstly, anybody can set up a company to “sell” a star name but really all you are buying is the right to put yourself in a private company’s database somewhere. Stars are named by the International Astronomical Union and they don’t sell the naming rights. Secondly, the stars that do make their way into these catalogues for purchase are inevitably very faint and invisible to the naked eye.
I want to propose an alternative that would provide grieving families with a connection to the night sky that they can renew themselves every time they walk outside at night. In short it is to connect the event with the whole sky. Rather than trying to find an invisible star, look at what is easily visible (the brightest stars and the constellations) and remember how they looked. By doing that we will be carrying on a tradition thousands of years old, and bringing the night sky back in to the lives of the people remembering.