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Archive for January, 2015

The Star-Naming Scam – Repost with added commentary

Once again whilst driving and listening to the impending doom the local weather had prepared for us (it didn’t happen) I heard the StarsStar Naming ad on the radio, hoping to cash in on the Valentine’s Day gift giving.


I decided to repost an article I wrote about this scam several years ago. I will add a few notes to update things where needed.

Reposted article follows:

This holiday season was the first in some time that I have not heard radio ads for the ‘gift’ of ‘naming a start after them’.  Well, maybe I just wasn’t listening to the radio enough because I did hear one, and its just as bad as it ever was. (Reposting Note:  The ‘new’ ad was heard well out of the holiday season.)


OK, let’s just go over the facts right now: Stars are not named after people, stars are ‘named’ by all sorts of designations. The brightest stars have kept their arabic names, but the fainter ones are named via designation, which usually means they are numbered. (Edit to Add: The International Astronomy Union is the one that decides what a star is called, and guess what – they aren’t naming them after people!).   You can’t just walk into  the International Astronomy Union and throw down a few bucks and get a start named after you! (Edit to add – you can’t do it over the phone or web, either) They don’t do that, and consider it crass enough to put up a page over the matter.

(Edit to add: This line from the previous link says it all: “A: Sorry, we are a scientific organization, not a branch of the entertainment industry.  We cannot distribute addresses of enterprises selling fictitious goods.”).


So what do these Star Naming groups do? Well they actually proudly tell you how little they do: They put the name in a book. That’s it. That’s all. Give us $20 and we’d happily put your name in a book as well. But what is their cincher? Well in the ad I heard they register the book with the US copyright office. (Edit to add: Yes, they are still using the copyright office instead of the US patent office, in older ads they used to say the book was placed in a Swiss bank safe) Wow. The way the guy in the radio ad says it implies that means something to him, but as for astronomy it means nothing. I can produce a Star Atlas with every star name changed, and I can even register it with the US copyright office – but all that means is that no one can copy my book and make money off my new name Star Atlas. It doesn’t mean anyone with a telescope is going to start calling Rigel ‘Fred’. Even if it meant anything in the US, the rest of the world would hardly care a bit.


For the record, in older radio ads, the book was said to be registered with the US Patent office, I suspect the patent office took offense to being referred to in this manner.


The rest of these star naming nonsense adds on a few extras to make it seem like a bargain. In reality you are just getting a cheap astronomy kit at very inflated prices. The typical items are: a Certification Sheet (easy to print), an astronomy program (there are many freeware programs that are probably superior) and sometimes a book. The quality of the book is unknown, but I cannot imagine it is one of the better books on the market.

(Edit to add: Given that the radio ad had a price of somewhere around $65 and the stuff they include maybe costs $10 in materials, maybe, this is pretty much a profit factory).

So if you really want to do something like this, consider ‘adopting’ a star. Many non-profit groups have star adoption programs to raise funds. You don’t get the cheap software, but you do get a more accurate Certificate (although you have to print it). Our personal favorite is the Pale Blue Dot which helps the Kepler planet spotting project continue. Here you are looking at candidates for adoption that are not only stars, but that might have planets orbiting them!

(Edit to add: Note that ‘adopting’ is not having a star named after you. Once this project winds up – which could be a couple of years or decades this information will probably be gone. But you will be one of the people who supported the crucial Kepler planet-finding project.


Don’t fall for the ‘naming’ scams. Let this nonsense end.


The SmartDoc Gel Imaging System – take images with your smartphone

In molecular biology, gel imaging is used to document proteins and nucleic acids suspended in various types of chemical gels. Perhaps4062 the most common version of this you might see outside the lab is when it is used in DNA forensics. Many crime shows often have the forensics people waving what look like an X-Ray of a bunch of dots. But in fact these are images created by using electrophoresis equipment.

A big issue with many systems, however, is that to image these systems you have to use expensive equipment, usually a camera device that underlights the sample in  dark chamber. These gel imaging systems can cost thousands of dollars.

But Accuris Instruments have come up with an ingenious solution. Instead of paying for a fully external camera, why not develop a Gel imaging system that employs a camera that almost everyone has on their person – Their Smartphone! So meet the SmartDoc Gel Imaging System.



Nope, Pluto is still a Dwarf Planet

Back in early October there were a bunch of poorly titled articles in the news proclaiming that ‘Pluto is a Planet again’ along with other pluto1misleading titles.  At the time we were busy prepping for the holiday season and could not address this issue. Now that we can, we have this to say:

Don’t bet on it.

Most of these titles stem from the results of a debate at Harvard which kind of smacks of ‘fixed results’ and was widely reported as if this were the final word the subject.

But this isn’t a popularity contest. This isn’t a subject decided by debate and thus far those wanting Pluto to be a planet again haven’t us any answer beyond sentimentality, and slight variations on ‘awww, c’mon!!’.

We’ve already cover the why of Pluto’s change from Planet to Dwarf Planet. Long story short is that the International Astronomer’s Union bent over backwards at first to try and keep Pluto as a planet that the would have accidentally admitted several asteroids and at least 5 Kuiper Belt objects into the category of “Planet” (with doubtless more coming in the future).

Suddenly a solar system with 15 planets with the possibility of another 3-5 in the near future – not counting anything else we found in the Kuiper belt – didn’t seem so keen.

The astronomer’s union then adapted a new set of rules with regret, but with the satisfaction that they had an effective definition of “Planet”. The regret of course was that Pluto was no longer the planet we knew. This sort of thing had happened before, when the definition of ‘asteroid’ was defined in the 19th century and Ceres was demoted from planet-hood after being classified as a planet for half a century.

This year, on July 14th, the New Horizons Probe will reach and explore dwarf planet Pluto. Oddly enough, when New Horizons was launched (2006) Pluto was still classified as a planet. But these days we don’t just send space probes to the big planets any more. We’ve got space probes visiting asteroids, landing on comets, with more to come. It doesn’t matter what you call Pluto, we’re still going to study it.






The Price of Neodymium – Another drop?

In our last exciting report on the Price of Neodymium it looked like the price per kg of the Rare Earth magnet material had stabilized in the upper 80’s.  Another 6 months have gone by and what has happened?

neodymum1.15Well, looks like it took another hit. The price dropped suddenly in November and hasn’t recovered. In fact it seems to have dipped a bit more in December.

What happened? It may be hard to tell, some articles point (indirectly) to how China’s efforts to restrict the export of rare earth magnets may have backfired on them as they now possess an overabundance of production and markets reducing as hybrid cars reduce their rare-earth usage and the US is set to restrict the usage of rare earth magnets in toys.

Another factor might be the global drop in oil prices, which have resulted in reduced costs across the board.

Will this continue? It is hard to say. One source states that China is continuing to restrict their market production while expressing concern about their drop in the market share. We’re scientists, not market experts, so we cannot say for certain.

Neodymium magnets are used in stereo loudspeakers, TV’s, turbine systems,  car parts, science instruments, and even smartphones.


Benchmark Rotating Mixer

Probably one of the strangest looking pieces of equipment you might find in a laboratory is a Rotating Mixer. I mean, look at the thing, it looks like a mini Ferris Wheel!