28 Jan 2018

Astrophysicist defends Rocket Lab over disco ball launch

4:39 pm on 28 January 2018

An Auckland astrophysicist is defending Rocket Lab against criticism over its launch of a giant disco ball into orbit.

Rocket Lab's 'Humanity Star'.

Rocket Lab's 'Humanity Star'. Photo: Supplied / Rocket Lab

The company last week launched three satellites into space, including the metre-wide sphere.

A California Institute of Technology astronomer, Mike Brown, has described it as "space graffiti".

The US magazine a Scientific American published an article titled 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Satellite Vermin', written by Caleb A. Sharf.

In he wrote that it felt abusive to jam "a brilliantly glinting sphere into the heavens."

He described the disco ball as providing "another flashing item asking for eyeballs".

"It's hogging some of that precious resource, the dark night sky, polluting part of the last great wilderness," Dr Sharf wrote.

But Richard Easther of Auckland University said the launch was a huge achievement and such criticism should be seen as a minor footnote.

"If it's a failure it's a failure around communications, rather than an act of vandalism, it's the failure of one group of people to speak effectively to another group of people."

Mr Easther said Rocket Lab's founder, Peter Beck, should be in New Zealand history books alongside people like Sir Edmund Hillary.

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