Over the past couple of days, folks have been abuzz with talk of Elon Musks’s upcoming Falcon Heavy launch, replete with a red Tesla Roadster. But another addition to our night sky is also noteworthy.
New Zealand’s Rocket Lab launched a 90 centimeter, carbon fiber disco ball into polar orbit last Sunday with its Electron rocket. It’s purpose? “a bright symbol and reminder to all on Earth about our fragile place in the universe“. More practical, it’s proof of concept to underscore NASA, Blue Origin, Boeing, SpaceX, and others aren’t the only space launch game on Earth.
Not everyone’s happy, nor full of a sense of wonder, with Peter Beck’s gift to mankind.
— Mike Brown (@plutokiller) January 24, 2018
As if the sloppy redefinition of a planet and subsequent quixotic search for a nonexistent super-Earth rolling at the rim of our solar system aren’t obnoxious enough, Mike.
Don’t believe the hype since these grumpy astronomers keep mum when it comes to satellite flares and meteors being just as much of a “distraction” from precious observing time. Grumblings from Brown, Caleb Scharf, among others are merely a tempest in a teapot. Astronomers can easily schedule their observations to avoid flares, unlike meteors and anthropogenic space debris burning up in the atmosphere. For all anyone knows, these experts might be astroturfing for Rocket Lab’s competition.
Humanity Star will be visible low in the sky, which is typically terrible for serious astronomy. There is “more” atmosphere when viewing closer to the horizon, affecting “seeing“. Atmospheric turbulence and density alter the refractive index causing the twinkling of stars, affecting an astronomer’s capacity to see clear images. On the other hand, the best astronomy happens near the zenith. Astronomers are griping about light pollution in the same breath as this satellite’s flares, but Humanity’s Star will be visible close to dusk and dawn. At this time, the only light pollution will be from the Sun glowing near the horizon. Further diminishing Humanity Star’s impact on observing, this cosmic throwback to the 1970’s will be in orbit for about nine months. So much for “long-term”, Mike.
Professional astronomers aren’t chained to a telescope all night. Instead, they’re poring over mountains of decades-old data from prior missions and crunching numbers. The very same numbers Mike Brown, much like Urbain Le Verrier who proposed the phantom planet of Vulcan between our Sun and Mercury, embrace to affirm their deeply-held beliefs and vanities. As for the future, who can say? For now, Elon Musk’s the most affordable game in town with a price tag of $5 million USD per launch. Nobody has that kind of change in their couch cushions.
Oligarchs aside, the heavens, are still free for everyone, despite pervasive light pollution. If you want to catch a glimpse of Humanity Star, note the official tracker at Humanity Star just looks pretty but isn’t functional for serious observers. You’ll be better served visiting Heavens-Above to figure out when this plucky little disco ball will be visible from your neighborhood.
@UFOvet on Twitter brought a similar mission the late nineties with a similar mission.
Curious whether there was any outcry when NASA launched the STARSHINE sats or if they just marketed it better with the student angle. https://t.co/ufkCRtIMr3
— Report UFO Sightings (@UFOvet) January 26, 2018
The STARSHINE (Student Tracked Atmospheric Research Satellite Heuristic International Networking Experiment) mission was, essentially, the same concept as Humanity Star. There were three STARSHINE satellites launched between 1999 and 2001, marring otherwise ‘perfect’ skies for a total of 868 days.