Why was this 'disco ball' satellite secretly launched into space?

Last updated at 17:30
Image of the Humanity StarRocket Lab

We've covered all sorts of space launches over the years - from conventional rockets and spacecrafts, to the more random meat pies and a pattie and chips entering the stratosphere.

But now something else a bit odd has made it into outer space...

A giant satellite that looks a bit like a disco ball.

It's called the 'Humanity Star', and the company behind it say it'll become the "brightest thing in the night sky".

So what's it all about?!

  • The Humanity Star spins around really quickly, reflecting the sun's rays back to Earth, creating a flashing light that can be seen against a backdrop of stars.
  • In fact, the probe is so bright that people can see it with the naked eye.
  • It's orbiting the Earth every 90 minutes and is said to be visible from every location in the world at different times.
Artists impression of the Rocket Lab's Humanity StarRocket Lab
  • The giant 'glitter ball' is expected to continue orbiting for around nine months, before re-entering Earth's atmosphere.
  • It's three foot wide, made from carbon fibre, and fitted with 65 highly reflective panels.
  • They say the Humanity Star is supposed to be a "reminder to all on Earth about our fragile place in the universe", and will "create a shared experience for everyone on the planet".

The only thing is, no one outside of Rocket Lab knew the space glitter-ball was on board the rocket until it was already in orbit.

And lots of scientists and astronomers aren't happy.

This is what happened..

Last week Rocket Lab launched a rocket from a remote sheep and cattle farm on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand.

People across the country celebrated with pride this 'almost unprecedented' step in commercial space exploration.

That's how their CEO Peter Beck, described it anyway.

But the company later told people, that as well as conventional satellites, the rocket was also carrying the 'Humanity Star'.

Screengrab for Rocket Lab's websiteRocket Lab
So why are people annoyed?

Light pollution is already a serious concern for scientists whose focus is on the stars, so perhaps it's not surprisingly that the decision to send a glinting disco ball into space hasn't been all that popular.

Astronomer Mike Brown from the California Institute of Technology has called it "intentionally bright long-term space graffiti."

Caleb Scharf, Director of Astrobiology at Columbia University, has even compared the Humanity Star to putting a "flashing strobe-light on a polar bear" or a company slogan across the top of Mount Everest.

He said: "Jamming a brilliantly glinting sphere into the heavens feels similarly abusive. It's definitely a reminder of our 'fragile place in the universe', because it's infesting the very thing that we urgently need to cherish."

Screengrab showing location of the humanity starRocket Lab
You can track the satellite's movement on Rocket Lab's website

Meanwhile, Richard Easther from the University of Auckland says that while one satellite like this isn't that big a deal, astronomers would be pretty concerned if putting random probes like this into space starts happening more regularly.

But at least it won't be up there forever. The Humanity Star is expected to stay in space for around nine months before the satellite falls back to Earth.

So when will we be able to see it and decide what we think for ourselves?

Well you can track it on Rocket Lab's special website, which gives real-time updates about the Humanity Star's location.

This means you can find out when it'll be closest to where you live, and check it out in the night sky!