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Sky lights up in the dark of the night

With the region hosting a dark sky reserve, a global conversation needs to be had about space junk.

The Wairarapa Dark Sky Reserve covering 3665km2, takes in the districts of South Wairarapa and Carterton.

The site is surrounded by enduring protection from significant light encroachment, with the Pacific Ocean to the east and south and the Remutaka and Tararua ranges to the west.

Wairarapa Dark Sky Association plans to expand the reserve area to include northern Wairarapa’s Masterton district, taking its size to 5895km2.

In a 2020 episode of my favourite podcast, Ologies with Alie Ward, space archaeologist Alice Gorman said there were about 27,000 human-made objects larger than 10cm that can be classified as space junk — old satellites, rocket bodies, and fragments of exploded or decaying spacecraft.

“The smaller bits, down to grain-sized, number in the millions.”

Gorman said an increasing volume of space junk could eventually trap us humans on earth.

The sky dump is becoming a more urgent situation as private corporations like Elon Musk’s SpaceX plan to launch up to 100,000 new satellites by the end of the decade.

Anti-satellite missiles, such as the one tested by Russia in 2021, can add hundreds to thousands of new debris pieces in one event,” Gorman said.

One of the biggest issues about the litter orbiting Earth is that scientists and archaeologists didn’t know enough about where, what, and how much junk there was.

The first time I saw a string of SpaceX satellites, I thought my eyes were fooling me.

Looking at the sky, I saw a row of what I thought was a reflection on my glasses. My friend quickly pointed out that they were sattelites.

At first, I was excited to see them finally, but on reflection, I would have rather my attention be grabbed by the stars.

The sky could one day be filled with millions of satellites, making it harder to see further away suns with the naked eye.

But, there is hope for preserving our skies as we know them.

The United Nations released guidelines for the long-term sustainability of outer space activities in 2018, emphasising the role of governments to ensure satellite operators don’t contribute to the debris problem.

For the first time in 50,000 years, a rare, green comet is orbiting the Earth, and it will be able to be seen by the naked eye.

On February 2, it will reach its peak brightness.

According to reports, it will look like a faint, blurry object almost the size of the moon.

The rare green comet, E3, will make its closest approach to the Sun on January 12 and then pass closest to Earth on February 2, according to Nasa.

So, while Wairarapa is one of the best places in the world to observe the sky, take advantage of it and glance upwards – otherwise, you could be waiting 50,000 years for another chance.

Grace Prior
Grace Prior
Grace Prior is a senior reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with a keen interest in environmental issues. Grace is the paper’s health reporter and regularly covers the rural sector, weather, Greater Wellington Regional Council, and coastal stories.

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