It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's a ... Giant Disco Ball in the Sky?

Rocket Lab says its 'Humanity Star' will shine in the sky for next 9 months
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 26, 2018 10:37 AM CST
In this November 2017 photo provided by Rocket Lab, Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck is pictured with his "Humanity Star" in Auckland, New Zealand.   (Rocket Lab via AP)

(Newser) – What's being described as a "giant disco ball" was launched into space last week from a New Zealand sheep and cattle farm, and astronomers are miffed, the Guardian reports. Rocket Lab, the space exploration startup responsible for hurling the "Humanity Star" skyward, says the 3-foot-wide carbon-fiber orb decked out with 65 reflective panels—which the Verge notes was launched in secret on the Electron rocket's first successful test flight—is expected to shine brightly in the sky for nine months by bouncing the sun's rays back to Earth, a flash visible with the naked eye. The sphere, which will orbit the Earth every 90 minutes, per its site, will serve as a "reminder to all on Earth about our fragile place in the universe" and "create a shared experience for everyone." That's not quite the description astronomers are using, however.

They complain the faux star will exacerbate light pollution for scientists scanning the skies for real stars. "Wow. Intentionally bright long-term space graffiti. Thanks a lot, @RocketLab," tweeted CIT astronomer and "Pluto killer" Mike Brown. Caleb Scharf, meanwhile, writes for Scientific American that this experiment "fills me with a big dose of dread"—mainly because stunts like this help disrupt the "natural rhythms" of life on Earth, he says. A scientist tells Quartz viewing won't get really good on the US mainland till March; the curious can head to the Humanity Star's site to track where it is at any given moment, per CNN. Disgruntled astronomers can at least take heart on Humanity Star's eventual demise: Its orbit will be marred by gravity after nine months or so and burn up upon re-entry into the planet's atmosphere, "leaving no trace in space or on Earth."

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