Russians prepare to launch a satellite brighter than a star to troll the world
In two weeks Russia will more or less launch Mayak, a satellite brighter than a star, which will be the fourth brightest object in the sky.
Last year, a group known as the Baikonur Cosmodrome, located in Kazakhstan, raised more than $300,000 via crowdfunding to help create and launch the Mayak satellite using Russian space technology. The plan is to include the tiny device on a Soyuz 2.1v as a secondary payload, and once in orbit, the satellite will unfurl a giant solar reflector. And when the sun hits it, it will become the fourth-brightest object in the night sky after the sun, moon, and Venus. Basically, it will become an artificial star.
The actual satellite is roughly the size of a loaf of bread, but the Mylar reflector will expand to 16 square meters (170 square feet). It is also 20 times thinner than a human hair, and varying reports state that it will shine with a magnitude of between -3.6 to -10. If it is the brighter magnitude, that would make it the third brightest object in the sky, putting it ahead of Venus.
The satellite will orbit at 370 miles and it will do… things. There are two stated reasons for the launch; the first is to test how to brake satellites, while the second is to show how space has become accessible to everyone and excited people about the prospect. Of course, neither of those things require the satellite to be nearly as bright as it will be.
And whatever the reason for the launch, many astronomers are not amused.
“We fight so hard for dark skies in and around our planet,” Nick Howes, an astronomer and former deputy director of the Kielder Observatory in Northumberland, told IFLScience. “To see this being potentially ruined by some ridiculous crowdfunded nonsense makes my heart simply despair.”
For their part, the team behind Mayak downplays the potential annoyance to astronomers, claiming that the sky is already crowded with artificial objects. Those objects tend to stick to predictable patterns and don’t shift frequently due to orbital braking tests, however, and none of them are nearly as bright as Mayak.
So when you look up in the sky on July 14 and see a bright object in the sky, it probably isn’t Venus. Instead, it may be a technologically sophisticated form of trolling, just on a cosmic scale.