Articles

There’s a Disco Ball in Space! Yay?


Hey Space Friends! This week I’m talking
about disco balls in space! It’s not a spacetime warp or some weird balls sent
over to us from a mirror universe but instead it’s a 65 panel highly
reflective ball that was sent into space by a commercial space company. That
company is Rocket Lab with a launch site in New Zealand and they’re trying to
make space exploration more accessible or at least more accessible for more
satellite launches. The three foot wide carbon ball is called the Humanity Star
and it was developed by Rocket Lab’s founder Peter Beck in hopes that it
would inspire humanity to think about our fragile place in the universe.
But this admittedly seems at odds with the choice of form and lack of function
of the Humanity Star itself. Peter Beck himself actually admits that the
inspiration for the Humanity Star didn’t come from our pale blue dot but actually
came from Iridium flares, the bright flashes of light that human-made
satellites make as they orbit the Earth and the Sun bounces off of them. That is
causing some annoyance for astronomers that already have their observations
sometimes obscured by passing satellites that are unintentionally strobe lights.
There’s also the fact that we have an incredibly inspiring human-made thing in
our night sky already: the International Space Station which regularly houses
astronauts in it. It’s incredible that you can see it with your naked eye in a
city or out in the country or wherever and if you haven’t done it yet I
definitely recommend it. I didn’t used to know that you could actually see the
International Space Station with your naked eye and you totally can. There are
endless apps and websites out there that will help you track down where it will
appear and what times it will appear and if you haven’t done it yet please
definitely try it. Essentially all this is to say is that putting a physical
in space leaves a lot to be desired. Art just like science should be exploratory. If you’re interested in art
in space I did an entire video about art satellites that you should
definitely check out, including my personal fave, ArtSat-2, which was a 3D
printed sculpture which was sent into deep space that actually generated
poetry about its experience in deep space which is incredibly cool. I also
dive into Planet Lab’s satellites, one of which actually launched on this Rocket
Lab rocket, but the cool thing about Planet Labs is that they have an entire
artist-in-residence program where they actually employ full-time professional artists to do awesome things with their satellites. As a
one-off the Humanity Star is probably fine. This disco is dead in about nine
months, by which I mean the Humanity Star itself is going to burn up in the
atmosphere in nine months so it’s not creating more space junk which is good.
But as a trend there’s cause for concern because we are living in the era of
billionaires sending their cars into space for lulz and commercial companies
increasingly making entire areas of the sky inaccessible to radio telescopes due
to their transmissions. There’s also other people who are looking to create
even more reflective surfaces in space which could be a real problem for any
observations with optical telescopes. Overall I think it’s fabulous to
experiment and try new things in space and I think that’s definitely what’s
needed but in their quest to make space more accessible I hope a lot of these
commercial companies actually consider how they might be actually making space
inaccessible for others in their quest. And so in that way, please do experiment
in space but also be considerate of others as you’re exploring our universe.
The Humanity Star definitely achieved its goal of making us think about all of
our fragile places in the universe but probably not as it originally intended
to. That’s it for me this week Space Friends! Leave a comment this week with
what sort of artwork you would send into space if you had been given the chance
and remember to subscribe on YouTube and join Patreon and I’ll see you next time.

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