Russian 'pyramid' set to be third brightest object in sky
AN experimental Russian satellite is about to become the third brightest object in our sky - behind only the sun and moon - in a move that has astronomers seeing red.
The satellite, called Mayak, was developed by Moscow Polytechnic University (MAMU). It is preparing to unfurl a giant, pyramid-shaped mirror.
And that's all it is designed to do.
Mayak is the Russian word for 'beacon'.
It is part of a $US30,000 crowdfunded campaign initiated by the advertising company 12. digital.
It is exploring the practicality of launching enormous 'billboards' into outer space.
Mayak was one of 72 satellites sent into space aboard a Soyuz rocket at the weekend.
The cubesat campaign is an initiative where excess launch capacity is sold off in uniform 'loaf-of-bread' sized blocks to private enterprise and the education sector.
Project runners report Mayak is now in position about 600km above the Earth and undergoing checks and preparations to deploy its 16 square meter metallised mylar sheet within the next few days.
If successful, it will overtake the International Space Station as the brightest man-made object in the sky, flashing overhead up to 16 times every day.
The Russian designers say the reflective sheet - one 20th the thickness of a human hair - will shine with a brightness rivalling that of the planet Venus.
It even has its own phone app, enabling users to track its location. Not that it will be needed, given how bright it will potentially be.
And that brightness is expected to cause issues among the multitudes of ground-based telescopes peering carefully into the night sky.
These telescopes already have to carefully time their observations to avoid light spilling over from celestial bodies from ruining their exposures. And a new source on the scale of Venus is not welcome.
Mayak's Russian makers say it is expected to stay in orbit for just a month before burning up. The mylar sheet is expected to act aas an aerodynamic braking mechanism, capturing enough of the ultra-thin high-altitude atmosphere to drag it back down.