Delaware Diamond shines as state’s official star

A sky chart shows the Delaware state star, the Delaware Diamond, located by Ursa Major. (Submitted photo/International Star Registry)

DOVER — Delaware’s state symbols vary from the well-known, such as the state bird, to the obscure, like the state soil. Blue hen-themed apparel and merchandise are ubiquitous, while far fewer people know the official soil of Delaware is the Greenwich loam.

Among the lesser-known state symbols is the state star, the Delaware Diamond.

Named by 12-year-old Wilmington resident Amy Nerlinger through a contest sponsored by the Delaware Museum of Natural History in 1999, the star is “located in the constellation of Ursa Major (Great Bear), with coordinates of right ascension 9h40m44s and declination 48°14’2”,” according to the state.

But while Delaware boasts of being the first state to register a celestial body through the International Star Registry, its claims may not carry the weight officials thought when the state star was designated.

In June of 2000, lawmakers passed a bill declaring the star an official state symbol. (The measure was unanimous, an indication astronomy doesn’t appear to be too politically polarizing, at least in Delaware.) It was signed into law later that month, and since then, the First State has claimed the Delaware Diamond as an official state token.

The International Star Registry, however, is not a government or scientific organization. Rather, it’s a private company, something the registry’s own website acknowledges.

Among the frequently asked questions on the company’s website is one inquiring as to whether the “scientific community” will recognize the star designation. The answer, the company says, is no.

“We are a private company that provides Gift Packages,” the FAQ states. “Astronomers will not recognize your name because your name is published only in our Star catalog. We periodically print a book called ‘Your Place in the Cosmos’, which lists the stars that we have named.”

Packages start at $54. The most basic one offers a certificate, a sky chart, a booklet on astronomy and a letter of congratulations. It appears to be largely unchanged from the package offered in 2000, which included the same certificate, a booklet and a chart of stars.

The International Star Registry said it has records of more than 2 million stars named by customers since 1979.

Former state Sen. Liane Sorenson sponsored the bill that made the Delaware Diamond the state star. After the Delaware Museum of Natural History announced a contest to name a star through the registry, Ms. Sorenson said, then-Lt. Gov. Ruth Ann Minner urged her to introduce legislation that would make that celestial body the official star of Delaware.

Although Ms. Sorenson said some people saw the plan as “frivolous,” the bill passed, and the star named by the museum was designated a state symbol.

A screenshot of the night sky from Google Sky is modified to show the location of the Delaware Diamond.

Jennifer Acord, a spokeswoman for the museum, wrote in an email, “The contest was held in connection with an exhibit at the museum, a model of the International Space Station.”

Delaware’s symbols carry some type of significance for the First State. Greenwich loam “is commonly found in all counties in Delaware and enhances water quality, agriculture, wildlife habitat and natural landscape beauty,” the state’s website says, while the blue hen connection stems from the Revolutionary War.

The Delaware Diamond, in contrast, doesn’t appear to have any special connection to the state, other than the obvious name. Thomas Jefferson supposedly nicknamed Delaware the Diamond State because its location makes it a “jewel” among states.

Among the scientific community, many stars lack proper names, going instead by Gliese 876 or HR 4523 A, for instance. The Delaware Diamond is no exception: Its real name is TYC 3429-697-1.

While TYC 3429-697-1 doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as well as Delaware Diamond, that doesn’t change the fact the International Star Registry technically has about as much power to name a star as your mailman.

What official symbols a state claims matters little in the long run, of course: It’s not like a foreign country will claim TYC 3429-697-1, and on the off chance life exists on a planet revolving around the star, it will never know of Delaware’s boasts.

So, brag away at Delaware’s celestial claim, but keep its unofficial nature in mind.

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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