Astronomers are angry after a New Zealand startup announced plans to launch a giant disco ball satellite dubbed the 'Humanity Star'. Experts say the man-made star will interfere with the scientific study of the universe.
Last week, the space exploration startup Rocket Lab launched a rocket from a remote island on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand. Aboard that rocket was conventional satellites as well as the 'Humanity Star', a 3-foot-wide geodesic sphere made of carbon fiber and fitted with 65 highly reflective panels.
The launch was a source of great pride and jubilation across New Zealand as Rocket Lab's founder and chief executive Peter Beck labeled the launch an "almost unprecedented" step in commercial space exploration.
The 'Humanity Star' will reflect the sun's rays back to Earth creating a flashing light visible from anywhere on the globe. They say it will become the brightest object in the night sky for nine months before falling back to Earth.
Rocket Lab called the 'Humanity Star' a "reminder to all on Earth about our fragile place in the universe" and Peter Beck added that the sphere would "create a shared experience for everyone on the planet."
Astrophysicists disagree with Rocket Lab saying that the star will create light pollution that already makes it challenging for scientists to study stars. Richard Easther from the University of Auckland said, "This one instance won’t be a big deal but the idea of it becoming commonplace, especially at larger scales, would bring astronomers out into the street."
"I can understand the exuberance for this sort of thing but I also get the sense that they did not realize that people could see a downside to it," Easther continued. Mike Brown from California Institute of Technology was less polite when he tweeted at the startup.
"Wow. Intentionally bright long-term space graffiti. Thanks a lot, @RocketLab," Brown wrote on Twitter. Director of astrobiology at Columbia University Caleb Scharf added his opinion saying the star represented "another invasion of my personal universe, another flashing item asking for eyeballs."
"Most of us would not think it cute if I stuck a big flashing strobe-light on a polar bear, or emblazoned my company slogan across the perilous upper reaches of Everest," Scharf continued.
"Jamming a brilliantly glinting sphere into the heavens feels similarly abusive. It’s definitely a reminder of our fragile place in the universe because it’s infesting the very thing that we urgently need to cherish."
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