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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Big Bang!

Back around 1993, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) of Great Britain (the ONLY authority, on celestial nomenclature, naming of celestial objects, etc.)**, put out a sort of 'call for papers', in Sky & Telescope magazine (yup, we astronomers are so creative when it comes to magazine titles), to all astronomers, both amateur and professional, worldwide; it was a request (demand), to come up with a new name, for a long time, 'thorn-in-the-side' issue: "The Big Bang".

Artist Rendition of the "Big Bang"
Artist Rendition of the "Big Bang".

Like all astronomers, the IAU wanted to crush it. It was childish, nondescript - and it had to go.

The specs for the new term: two words only - and, it had to be descriptive, in some way, of the current state of the universe...

So, after I read the call, I went outside to my telescope, threw my elbow, up onto the optical tube, looked up at the clear, dark night, and asked myself, "OK - what is the universe doing, right now?"

Well, it was doing, basically, one thing - expanding. That expansion was the largest, most powerful event that had ever taken place - anywhere!

Instantly, I thought, "The Great Expansion!" (Ooh! - how clever). And, that was the term I submitted to the IAU...

Three months later, in Sky & Telescope, the IAU published the results of the request. They had adopted a new term, to replace "The Big Bang". This term had been submitted by only six astronomers, worldwide - and I was one of them: the term was, 'The Great Expansion'. I was afraid, for a moment, that I was going to launch into a performance of, "The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies" - or something - right there in my living room - right in front of my wife! Thankfully, after a spell I regained my composure; then I told my wife... Well, the public didn't seem to care much about the IAU's decision; once it gets something so "cute" stuck, in its collective craw, it becomes difficult to dislodge and, so, 'The Big Bang', remains the term, favor, to this day...

International Astronomical Union
International Astronomical Union

**(AUTHOR'S NOTE: The International Star Registry™, and similar organizations, charge a fee to "name a star" after you, or some loved one, and even present you with a certificate saying as much. However, that "certificate", is just an agreement between you and them - no one else. If that's OK with you then, go for it; you've bought yourself an agreement. In fact, competing companies market their own name catalogs, so, the 'name' of any given star, depends on which company you're doing business with! The IAU neither sells naming rights nor does it authorize any other company or organization to do so. The IAU cautions consumers that products and services marketed by other entities have no formal or official validity whatsoever. With a few exceptions of ancient, or Arabic names, all-stars, are in fact, designated by a Greek letter and catalog number only.)^

^(In 1998, the International Star Registry™ has issued a violation by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs for deceptive advertising, for claiming "official" naming rights, and have since discontinued this claim).

Outside of the IAU, no organization, individual, or other entity can, technically, legally, or in any other respect, 'name' a star, for or, after, anyone.

Dale Alan Bryant
Senior Contributing Science Writer

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