Russian Launches “Artificial Star” | Why Astronomers Are On Edge

A Russian Soyuz rocket has just successfully launched a controversial satellite expected to become one of the brightest stars—a fact that could hamper our own astronomical observations. Once in orbit, 600 kilometers high, the satellite will unfurl a giant pyramid-shaped solar reflector made of Mylar. Scientists have predicted Mayak, the satellite, will shine with a magnitude of about -3.6, making it the brightest object in the sky after the Sun, the Moon, and Venus.

Mayak is a cubesat—a small satellite about the size of a loaf of bread. was developed by Moscow State Mechanical Engineering University (MAMU) and crowdfunding from the Russian website Boomstarter. Americans first learned about the project at the beginning of last year. Just last week, Mayak launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, along with 72 other satellites.

The satellite is expected to unfurl in a few days. MAMU says the goal of the mission is to “inspire people to look up to space.” It also holds a more defined scientific purpose with measurable goals, like testing technology to deorbit satellites. The satellite will remain in orbit for at least a month.

If it lives up to its potential, Mayak will cause some serious problems. The satellite will not only hamper astronomers, but it could pose a bigger problem for all-sky surveys, which monitor the entire sky.

“Despite what appears to be significant public and social media backlash against this by the astronomical community, they have proceeded to launch,” Nick Howes, an astronomer, told IFLScience. “One can only hope the mission fails and the plan to blight our pristine dark skies never takes shape.”

Source: iflscience.com