A Star for My Girl

Love and Sex

A Star for My Girl

Illustration: Vidyasagar Saple

Ravi wants to do something different for his girlfriend’s birthday. They’ve been together for two years and it’s time for a grand gesture. He’s ready to commit. He wants to marry Nicole, have children; in short, buy her the world.

But since he can’t do that, he settles, after much thought, on having a star named for her. He would find one nestled in a distant galaxy. That way their love would be immortal, yet private. He’s heard of people doing this before, and is confident it will work out.

He rushes to tell Nicole. She’s thrilled. “You are the best ever,” she says, kissing him. She yells out the news to her parents, scaring Coco, the cocker spaniel. Of course she loves the idea of a star named Nicole.

Meanwhile, Ravi who has gotten to work on his promise, has gone through thousands of websites – Cheetos strewn all across his lap, beer dripping down his beard. He’s beginning to feel a bit suspicious. The 25-year-old law student is going to be spending a lot of money – between US $60-100 – but is unsure if the gift is legitimate.

The more he Googles, the clearer it becomes. He’s over promised. The International Astronomical Union (IAU), which controls space nomenclature, has really strict rules about how stars are named. Ravi isn’t the first sucker to give naming a star a shot – it’s the opposite, in fact. His grand idea is beginning to feel less special already.

“Like true love, the beauty of the night sky is not for sale, but is free for all to enjoy,” explains a statement on the IAU website in plain-speak. “The gift of a star may open someone’s eyes to the beauty of the night sky. This is a worthy goal, but it does not justify deceiving people into believing that real star names can be bought.”

So you can’t just name stars on a whim and a fancy. Many of them, like Sirius (Greek for “burning”) or Taurus (Arabic for “eye”), come from ancient times. Occasionally, a star is named to honour an astronomer or astronaut for their stellar contribution to the field. For instance, “Barnard’s Star”, a red dwarf, is named after EE Barnard, who spotted it in 1916. A recent example, Teegarden’s Star, was discovered in 2003, and is named for Bonnard J Teegarden, the NASA astrophysicist who led the team that discovered it.

In most cases, however, stars are simply given numerical descriptors that best locate them in the night sky. The IAU doesn’t appreciate suggestions for naming stars, and if they did, they’d prefer numbers.

It’s rare to see six-foot-four Ravi anxious. But tonight he is a worried man. He had promised Nicole the stars. And she had told her friends. Would he be “deceiving” her if he named a star for her on one of the websites that the IAU had warned against? And could these websites be flat-out lying? He knows the answer is an unequivocal yes.

No database on any of these websites is accepted by the scientific community. The IAU characteristically doesn’t mince words here either. It said buying a star would be like buying a temporary feeling of happiness. “Like if you take a cup of tea instead of the doctor’s recommended medicine. But at least you do not risk getting sick by paying for a star name, only losing money.”

The more he Googles, the clearer it becomes. He’s over promised. The International Astronomical Union (IAU), which controls space nomenclature, has really strict rules about how stars are named.

Ravi swears at the site, but has a thought. Doesn’t SRK have a crater on the moon named after him? How did that happen? Maybe Ravi could find a way out after all. That hope lives only as long as the next search.

The International Lunar Geographic Society, a New York-based organisation devoted to the study of the moon, had named a crater after SRK on his 44th birthday in November 2009. And the IAU had approved it.

“I’m no SRK… This is fucking pointless,” Ravi concludes. He can, of course, just spend the money and be done with it. But he can’t get over the fact that the websites lie so blatantly. He wonders if he should hire a lawyer and sue them. But the IAU, which is now his trusted advisor, weighs in again. “Chances are that they will either laugh their heads off or suggest that you invest their fees more productively…”

Fuck it, he decides. “Let her be angry, I can’t buy her a lie.” But the words, “Instantly Delivered Personalised Star Certificate only $19.95. Print it yourself on any colour printer,” stare at him from a website called Name a Star. It is 3.30 am. Ravi decides to sleep on it.

The next day he’s up early. It’s Nicole’s birthday. The star has not been named but he might just have a better idea. A 40-minute drive later, he finds what he should have been looking for all along: a Galileo sky telescope.

This is an updated version of an earlier story.