Sky's the Limit in Space Real Estate Monopoly

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Years ago there was a lively radio ad for suntan lotion with the jingle: “Who owns the sun? Coppertone! Coppertone!

Now a 49-year old woman in Spain, Angeles Duran, says that she’s owner of the sun.

She’s anything but timid about the claim. Duran says that she was the first to think of it — like grabbing an Internet domain name that everyone wanted.

Duran was inspired by American entrepreneur Dennis Hope who for the last twenty years has been marketing pieces of the moon, Mars and Venus for $30 a parcel. He’s reportedly earned $9 million in selling real estate you will never set foot on. It’s like saying you own Reading Railroad because you’ve got a Monopoly board game card.

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Perhaps Hope was at least partly inspired by the International Star Registry (ISR) that has sold to date over one million unofficial “star names” at $48.95 each. The ISR makes it clear you do not “own” the star you’ve name after a loved one (yes, the ISR is now running a Valentine’s Day Special.) But the Star Registry folks have the chutzpah to warn: “don’t be fooled by impostors.”

I’ve reported on the United Nations’ Outer Space Treaty that says no one can assert territorial rights on anything beyond Earth. Oh no says Duran and Hope, there’s a loophole: The Space Treaty forbids nations, not individuals.

Last November Duran lost no time getting her local notary public to declare that she is now the “owner of the sun.”

Well why not own the sun? It’s low maintenance, it has sustained nuclear fusion reactions for the last 4.6 billion years without repairs and it comes with a 10 billion-year warranty backed by the laws of gravity, hydrodynamics, and particle physics.

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Duran told the Spanish daily El Mundo that she hopes to charge everyone who uses the sun a yet-to-be-decided fee. She plans to give half of the revenue to the Spanish government, 20 percent to the country’s pension fund, 10 percent to research and 10 percent to ending world hunger.

She’ll keep the rest for herself.

Duran will have to start by putting power meters on zillions of rooftop solar power panels around the globe. Sunbathers would need to wear little waterproof sun exposure “taxi meters.”

I’d advise Duran against renaming the sun because it already has good branding and market share. But she needs to trademark the word “sun.” She could also assert copyright over sunset, sunrise, and solar eclipse photos. She could insist that the credit line read: “Sun, courtesy of A. Duran.

To get people on board, Duran will need to launch a multimillion dollar add campaign, with a catchy phrase like “Got Sun?” And if solar power use declines, she can advertise “New Sun.

What happens if you don’t pay the solar power bill? Duran can’t unplug the sun. But for an investment of a few $10 of billions she could launch a lot of sunshades into geosynchronous Earth orbit. They would be positioned to cast little shadows on the homes of people behind in their solar power payments. Imagine walking down a neighborhood and seeing a house in permanent shadow. Oh the humiliation. “Mommy, I’m going over to play at Joey’s, he’s got sun.”

The downside is that Duran is now also now responsible for all damages caused by the sun.

If someone can sue McDonalds for spilling hot coffee in his or her lap, than anyone can sue Duran for sunburn and, much worse, skin cancer due to exposure.

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Duran is also now liable for damage due to solar flares and coronal mass ejections that can blast the equivalent energy of 100 billion Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs toward Earth — or greater. The gusher of electromagnetic interference disrupts communications across the globe. Even worse, entire power grids can be disabled. Besides loss of power such a knockout would affect water supplies, perishable food, medicines and a range of other everyday necessities.

What’s more, the sun provides the energy to power Earth’s weather system, so Duran is now liable for all damages due to hurricanes and tropical storms. Keep her address handy the next time something like Hurricane Katrina blows into town.

Therefore, as with any high-risk business, Duran will have to take out hefty insurance policies.

If the sun destroys the world in 2012 — as some Mayan-calendar-soothsayers predict — she’ll have to go claim another star. She better call the ISR now before they run out of stars to name.

Duran’s next investment scheme is to charge for the use of gravity. Roller coaster riders, skiers, and soapbox derby constants, among others, will have to pay her a surcharge.

Photo Credits: Thierry Legault, NASA, NOAA