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Astronomers Voice Concerns About Space Mirrors

Last Updated on Sunday, 02 May 2010 13:25
Published on Friday, 25 February 2005 00:00


Contact for this release: Dr Jacqueline Mitton (see contact information above)
As Russian cosmonauts aboard the Mir space station prepare to test the Znamya 25-metre 'space mirror' on 4th February, the Royal Astronomical Society restated its grave concerns about the threat this technology poses to fundamental studies of Earth and the universe, should it become widespread in the future.

The Znamya reflector is designed to direct strong beams of sunlight down to places on Earth where it is night. If the experiment goes as planned, observers in parts of Europe and North America may witness a light in the sky significantly brighter than the full Moon for up to several minutes.

The President of the Royal Astronomical Society, Professor David Williams of University College, London, wrote on behalf of the RAS to the Director of the Space Regatta Consortium (SRC, the partnership of seven Russian organisations funding the experiment) in September 1998. (At that time the experiment was scheduled for last November.)

The letter points out that astronomers in many countries have developed, at huge financial and intellectual cost, large ground-based observatories at remote dark sites. These observatories make discoveries of immense scientific and cultural importance concerning the origin and development of the universe, and Earth's place within it.

In the opinion of the RAS Council, all such studies will be put at risk and the future development of astronomy could be seriously impeded by the light pollution of the night sky that would inevitably result from the programme proposed by the SRC.

In addition, radar studies of our own atmosphere could be seriously hindered by the presence of many reflectors or large individual reflectors.

The SRC has ambitions to launch whole constellations of space mirrors capable of directing towards the ground a beam of sunlight as wide as a city and a hundred times as bright as the full Moon. Light pollution is already a growing problem, and the RAS's position is that such a major threat to the natural darkness of the night sky is not acceptable.

Issued by:
Dr Jacqueline Mitton, RAS Public Relations Officer
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