I was a newlywed at the time, so my romantic instincts were perhaps a little addled, but to me it sure seemed like a great valentine’s day gift when I bought my wife a star from the international star registry.
The radio commercials assured me that the name that I picked would be permanently entered in the star database in the Library of Congress and that we’d receive a map pointing out its location in the sky. I suppose I pictured going out on a clear evening with a pair of binoculars and presenting the gift to her, but when I got the details in the mail I realized that demand for naming rights had long before absorbed all the “visible” stars. “Jemi’s Valentine” (the creative star name I came up with) looked pretty unimpressive as a tiny dot in a field of tiny dots in a remote corner of a paper galaxy.
My wife (the Jemi in “Jemi’s Valentine”) was gracious and pretended to be pleased with my gift just long enough for the star map and official certificate to get filed somewhere. She still loves me, and along the way I’ve learned what kinds of gifts actually make her heart flutter, but I plan to dredge that star map out of its filing place one of these days to get a better fix on roughly where her star lives.
I’ve since read that about 3,000 distinct stars are visible from any given point on the Earth’s surface with good conditions, i.e. clear sky and minimal light pollution. It sure seemed like more than that one night, on a cruise to Nova Scotia, when I clearly saw the Milky Way galaxy for the first time in my adult life from the observation deck.
It was a reminder of just how much beauty and excellence in our world is hidden in plain view, or concealed by the haze and hustle of modern life. Two stories in this issue, “Romancing the Stars” and “Really Great Stuff Made Here,” affirm this fact.
That glimpse of our cosmic neighborhood also started me thinking. Maybe someday when mankind has slipped the surly bonds of Earth (and found a loophole around the speed of light) and sent legions of ships out like so many silver dandelion seeds to inhabit the cosmos, they may run short of names for distant stars. And just perhaps someone will suggest they crack open that ancient database still preserved in the Library of Congress and honor the implied promise of the International Star Registry.
And just maybe, in the eons to come, they’ll find a habitable planet revolving around a certain star and the children of settlers from the Sol System will ask their parents, “Why is our sun named ‘Jemi’s Valentine?’” And the parents will make up tall tales to satisfy their kids’ curiosity, never knowing that it all began with a desperate young groom hoping to impress his bride with something he bought from a cheesy radio marketing scheme.
Who says I’m not romantic?