Delayed gratification, and naming stars with physicists

It’s interesting to talk to Jon’s physicist colleagues, who often have a very different spin on things that happen in life. “Nobody wants to do local galaxies anymore,” they say in passing at parties.

“I mean, why bother even measuring? We might just as well call anything local d10 mega parsecs away and have done with it.” Stuff like this can make you rethink your own personal scale of distance. For example, today I bought a pint of milk from Duane Reed because it was one block further to buy it 5 cents cheaper at Morton Williams.

We were talking about star registries. The kind where well meaning bridesmaids or family members pay to have a star named “Mr and Mrs Steele” to commemorate your lasting love (this always seems like a risk to me) or “Irene Smith” because by the time you turned 70 there was literally nothing left in the world to buy you.

“It’s a waste of money,” said Ingyin. “It’s not like astronomers actually use those names. You’re just paying to have a certificate and a name in a book, which the certificate guys print. If you want to really have something named after you you have to do it the old fashioned way. Discover it and publish about it.”

“Exactly,” Jon backed her up, “and it’s not like aliens are looking up at their sun and thinking, “Damn it, we have to call it “Sarah on her Graduation” now.”

“They do put the register book in a safe in a vault,” noted Yosi. “It’s official in that sense, I suppose.”

“Yes,” agreed Ingyin. “Though by the time it’s important to know what any specific star further away than Cygnus X 1 is called, the Sun will have swallowed the Earth and the book in the safe in the vault won’t be too much help.”

The others nodded in agreement.

“Let’s have another drink,” I said.

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