Humanity Star: how to see the giant 'disco ball' orbiting Earth

Friday, 26th January 2018, 1:58 pm
Updated Friday, 26th January 2018, 1:58 pm

New Zealand-based space company Rocket Lab secretly launched a 'giant disco ball' into orbit earlier this week.

Dubbed the 'Humanity Star', the glistening object is expected to be visible in the night sky across the planet over the next nine months.

However, the experiment has already been criticised by a science community that already struggles to observe the universe through light pollution and space debris.

What is the Humanity Star?

The Humanity Star is a three-foot-wide geodesic sphere made from carbon fibre and fitted with 65 highly reflective panels.

It was secretly launched from a remote farm on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand, alongside more conventional satellites.

According to Rocket Lab, the sphere will reflect the sun’s rays, creating a flashing light visible from Earth.

The Humanity Star will be the brightest object in the night sky for around nine months, after which it will re-enter the atmosphere, burning up and leaving no trace in space or on Earth.

'Humanity is capable of great and kind things... The Humanity Star is to remind us of this.' (Photo: Rocket Lab)

What's the point of it?

Rocket Lab have said that the experiment is designed as a “reminder to all on Earth about our fragile place in the universe”.

The company’s chief executive and founder, Peter Beck, said the Humanity Star will “create a shared experience for everyone on the planet”.

"Humanity is finite, and we won't be here forever," he said. "Yet in the face of this almost inconceivable insignificance, humanity is capable of great and kind things... The Humanity Star is to remind us of this."

He labelled the launch - which was achieved with a battery-powered, 3D printed rocket - as an “almost unprecedented” step towards commercial space exploration.

You can track the progress of the Humanity Star on its website -www.thehumanitystar.com

How can I see it?

The plan is for the flashing satellite to make passes over as much of the globe as possible, and it is currently orbiting the planet every 90 minutes.

"Rich or in poverty, in conflict or at peace, everyone will be able to see the Humanity Star orbiting Earth," said Beck.

The Humanity Star's website states that astronomers in the UK "will not be able to see the satellite within the next 2087 hours", which equates to roughly 87 days.

That suggests it won't be visible until late April, but you can keep up to date with the satellite's position by heading to thehumanitystar.com.

When it does cross the UK, it will be visible with the naked eye.

"Take your loved ones outside to look up and reflect. You may just feel a connection to the more than seven billion other people on this planet we share this ride with," says Beck.

The rocket carrying the Humanity Star and other satellites launched on January 20 (Photo: Rocket Lab)

Why is it annoying astronomers?

Many astronomers have spoken out against the launch.

Richard Easther from the University of Auckland, told The Guardian that "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."

That's because light pollution already poses a serious threat to scientists' ability to observe the stars, and the introduction of a flashing mirror-ball is not going to help matters.

Caleb Scharf, director of astrobiology at Columbia University, wrote: "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.”

“Jamming a brilliantly glinting sphere into the heavens feels similarly abusive."

According to the Humanity Star's website, Rocket Lab are "considering future iterations of the Humanity Star".

This article was originally published here