Astronomers and members of the public have criticised a start-up that has placed a highly reflective satellite in low-space orbit.
Rocket Lab launched a shuttle from New Zealand last week, but as well as conventional weather and ship tracking satellites it also had a shiny reflective sphere – a geodesic sphere, technically – on board.
The privately owned company says on its website that it’s aiming “to remove the barriers to commercial space by providing frequent launch opportunities to low Earth orbit”.
But their latest stunt, a 65-panelled carbon fibre structure that will be visible with the human eye and stay in orbit for about 90 days, has not been taken well by some scientists.
Mike Brown, professor of planetary astronomy at the California Institute of Technology, said on Twitter: “Wow. Intentionally bright long-term space graffiti. Thanks a lot, @RocketLab.”
both bad for astronomy and a horrible precedent.— Mike Brown (@plutokiller) January 24, 2018
Others likened the so-called “Humanity Star” to a disco ball hurtling through space.
Some reactions were more extreme – one man likened the start up to someone who didn’t clear up their dog’s mess in a park.
Thanks Rocket Lab. You are the equivalent of the annoying little runt that let your dogs poop all over the park so the rest of the park users can't enjoy it.— Paul Ryan's Auntie (@Gordon_Rear) January 26, 2018
Another referred to the satellite, which Rocket Labs say will look like a “bright flashing shooting star” when viewed from Earth, as “celestial graffiti”.
Celestial graffiti at its worst...— Donn Mukensnable (@Hawaii_skyfan) January 26, 2018
According to the UN’s Office for Outer Space Affairs, there are around 4,500 satellites already orbiting, so what harm is one more?
Rocket Lab did not respond to the Press Association’s request for comment on the satellite.
Peter Beck, the chief executive of Rocket Labs, said on the Humanity Star’s website that it would bring people together, as it should be visible from Earth at dawn or dusk, and can be tracked on their website.
“No matter where you are in the world, rich or in poverty, in conflict or at peace, everyone will be able to see the bright, blinking Humanity Star orbiting Earth in the night sky,” he said.
Want to know when you can see the Humanity Star?
1 Go here: https://t.co/LyYjXzqAzA
2 Select: "Find my location"
3 Enter your city
But as wholesome as that sounds, the Humanity Star is meant to be visible even with the naked eye, and the last thing astronomers need is more light pollution, especially if it’s coming from the sky itself.
Writing in the Scientific American, Caleb A Scharf, director of astrobiology at Columbia University, said that although the Humanity Star wouldn’t “single-handedly demolish astronomy” the move is a cause for concern.
“It might have been cute to do this in the late 1950s,” he wrote, “But in 2018 it feels to me like yet another invasion of my personal universe, another flashing item asking for eyeballs.
“It’s hogging some of that precious resource, the dark night sky, polluting part of the last great wilderness.”