Last Thursday, the rocket company Rocket Lab announced that it had secretly launched the Humanity Star, a satellite in the shape of a reflective sphere that effectively works as a disco ball and could at times become the brightest object in the night sky.
US spaceflight startup Rocket Lab put three commercial satellites into orbit during its rocket launch this past weekend — but it turns out there was another satellite that hitched a ride on the vehicle too. Created by the company CEO Peter Beck, the sculpture called “Humanity Star” is a polygonal carbon-fiber sphere consisting of 65 panels that reflect sunlight as it spins. About the size of a large beach ball, it’s visible from Earth with the naked eye, and the company announced it will be “the brightest thing in the night sky.”
Many satellites—including the International Space Station—can be seen with the naked eye when the sun strikes their solar panels or other reflective materials at the right angle. A Japanese satellite with a similar design has been in space since 1986, Clark says, and it is visible with the naked eye from outside major cities, but isn’t particularly bright. Accounting for a lower orbit and larger mirrors, the Humanity Star could be brighter than most stars in the sky, though not as bright as the planets.
“No matter where you are in the world, or what is happening in your life, everyone will be able to see the Humanity Star in the night sky,” Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck said in a news release. “My hope is that all those looking up at it will look past it to the vast expanse of the universe and think a little differently about their lives, actions and what is important for humanity.”
Rocket Lab said the satellite is currently circling Earth every 90 minutes in a nearly pole-to-pole orbit, reflecting the sun’s light as it rotates rapidly. Over the course of the next nine months or so, atmospheric drag is expected cause its orbit to decay, and it will eventually go out in a blaze of glory during its descent through the atmosphere.
Rocket Lab says skywatchers will be able to track Humanity Star’s location and viewing opportunities at TheHumanityStar.com.