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How can I find the star I have "bought"?

We get quite a few requests here at Curious for help in finding stars that have been "purchased" by our readers. If you're still just thinking about buying a star please read Can I Buy a Star? for our opinions on the companies that offer this service and our suggestions for a much more personal approach. Included below are a few example questions and answers, and I'll start with some general tips.

To find a star, the easiest thing would be to figure out which constellation it is in and where it is in relation to brighter stars. Included with your 'bought star' I presume there is a finding chart which shows this information. Hopefully that includes the constellation it is in and nearby easily recognizable stars. Then you can use a service like www.heavens-above.com to figure out when that area of the sky will be visible in your sky and then locate the constellation and use that to find the star. Most stars which are 'sold' are very dim and hard to find, which is a shame for people who spend money hoping they will be able to find them.

Another option is to use something like Sky View which has a database of pictures of the whole sky. Pick the 'non-Astronomers' interface enter the RA and Dec in the "Sky Co-ordinates or Object" box and select the Optical survey. This will give you a small image of the sky in which "your" star will be at the center.

What follows are some examples of specific answers. Please try the above, and read-on to see if you can figure it out yourself before sending us specific requests to find your particular star.

I bought a star and a telescope for my boyfriend but we still can't figure out where it is the R.A is 273.21034167 (what does that mean?) DEC is -63.68550278 (don't know what that means either!) could you please help me find it. I need to know the basics of finding it on our own telescope or even just by the naked eye.

R.A. and Dec are abbreviations for Right Ascension and Declination, which are basically like latitude and longitude on the sky. They are explained further in our answer to What are RA and DEC?

The RA and Dec in the above question are listed in decimal degrees, Astronomers more typically use RA and DEC in hours and degrees, converted into that format the RA and Dec above are:M
R.A. = 18 hours, 12 minutes and 50 seconds
Dec = -63 degrees, 41 minutes, 8 seconds

From a given location on Earth you can only see stars at a certain range of declinations. The more negative the declination, the further south you need to be (you have to be further north for positive declinations). Stars at Dec=-63 degrees only make it above the horizon for people south of latitude 27 degrees, and only comfortably if you are considerably south of that. I hope you live pretty far south, or you will never see this star and if that is the case my opinion of companies who sell stars has dropped even further.

I am a complete novice regarding the stars, although I love looking at them and am in awe. In this vain, I bought my daughter a star in the sky for her first Christmas. It is known as Cygnus RA20h11m42.76s D48deg48m5.66s. Other than identifying the seven sisters to the naked eye, I have no idea what I'm looking for in the sky. I understand that stars move and are only visible in certain areas at certain times of the year. We live in Spain in the Costa Blanca if that helps with timings. I would be very grateful if you could tell a layman how to find a certain star please. Is it visible or would it be too faint and we would need a telescope?

Cygnus is one of my favourite constellations. It makes the shape of a swan flying along the Milky Way (when it is dark enough to see the Milky Way). It's overhead in summer evenings, so a really pleasant constellation to look at, the star at its tail is one of the 3 brightest stars in the summer sky which make up the "Summer triangle". You can use a site like www.heavens-above.com to make "whole sky charts" for your location and a given time, and with a bit of effort and practice should be able to match that to the stars in the sky.

As for the star you have "bought", it is likely to be too faint for you to see without a telescope. On the other hand Cygnus is a lovely constellation and there is no-one to stop you from "claiming" it for your daughter - it would certainly be a nice tradition for you to go out together as a family to see it every summer.

I'm an employee here at Cornell in the ILR School. For Christmas this year I had a star named after my dad. I have the location of the Star - but I would really like to be able to look at it and know exactly where in the constellation Ursa Major - that it is located. I know how to locate the "Big Dipper" by just looking in the sky - but I really really want to know exactly where in the constellation that his star is located. The chart that they sent me along with the info - does not give any specifics other than the Astronomical Position Star # USC3263172-83, Astronomical Position is Right Ascension 11H45M8.71S, Declination +29D52M39S, Magnitude 14.62. Would it be possible for you to tell me where in the constellation it is located and/or let me see if through the observatory telescope here on campus? Would it be possible to get a chart or photo that I could give to my father along with the location information?

One option you have is to find it in an online Astronomical database. A nice one is Sky View who have a special non-Astronomers interface. If you enter the co-ordinates of the star as 11 45 8.71 +29 52 39 and search the optical database you get a small optical picture of the star. You can pick the size of the image you want up to a few degrees across which allows you to see the star in relation to nearer brighter ones. SIMBAD is another such service, and lets you make a finder chart for objects within a certain radius of the position. You should check the epoch of the co-ordinates you have. I am assuming it is 2000 which is what I put into the search engines (and should be the default), but it is possible that it is 1950 which makes somewhat of a difference. There is also software you can download to do this. A free one is Carte du Ciel which only works for Windows computers.

The star this company have 'sold' you is a 14th magnitude star, which means it is so dim that it can only be seen with a telescope. The limiting brightness for stars seen with the naked eye is about magnitude 6.5, with binoculars you can see to magnitudes of about 10 (the bigger the number the fainter the star). A 14th magnitude star can only be seen by a fairly large amateur telescope on a dark site. I actually doubt that it is possible to see it using the refracting telescope on the Cornell campus even on a clear night because of the light pollution from north campus. The Cornell Astronomy Club hosts public observing nights most Fridays if you want to try, although they may not be keen to point at your specific star. The name you have for the star (USCetc) appears to be the companies personal ID for the star and is not recognized by any Astronomical catalogues.

It feels mean to tell you this right before you plan to give the present to your father, but actually the bad guys here are the company that sold you the star and continue to make money out of the general publics ignorance about astronomy. As mentioned in the posted article above, it could be nicer (and is just as official) to pick any star you can actually see and make your own certificate.

That's ok, I appreciate the openness. Yesterday another student emailed me and told me basically the same thing. I will probably ask the company for my money back - and see if I can go about it the way that you have suggested.

June 2006, Karen Masters (more by Karen Masters) (Like this Answer)

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