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Friday, February 5, 1999 Published at 13:16 GMT


Znamya mirror project criticised

The mirror will target various cities

The Russian space mirror, Znamya 2.5, has raised concerns among astronomers. They are worried that reflected light shone down on to the Earth's surface will interfere with their studies of the stars.

They will not be unhappy that the project failed.

Patrick Moore: Fears adverts in the night sky
The 25-metre foil mirror, was due to be unfurled from a Progress M-40 cargo craft on Thursday to target light at a number of cities in the northern hemisphere.

But the thin disc failed to open properly, and was finally abandoned by Mission Control in Moscow.

Astronomers saw little immediate threat from this mirror but they are concerned that the project may be taken further with even bigger mirrors being deployed in the future.

Patrick Moore, presenter of the long-running BBC series Sky At Night, said "It's the long-term outlook that worries me."

He said a series of large-scale mirrors would hamper the work of astronomers by adding to the "light pollution" already coming from big towns and cities.

He also warned of the damage that could be done to the environment if ecosystems are upset by being lit for long periods when they should be dark.

'Pussy-kins cat food'

"Who knows where this will go," he said. "Before long we could have adverts up there saying: 'Buy pussy-kins cat food'".

The President of the UK's Royal Astronomical Society, Professor David Williams recently wrote on behalf of the RAS to the Director of the Space Regatta Consortium (SRC) - the partnership of seven Russian organisations funding the current experiment.

He said astronomers in many countries had developed, at huge financial and intellectual cost, large ground-based observatories at remote dark sites.

These observatories were making discoveries of immense importance concerning the origin and development of the universe, and this work could be jeopardised by these mirrors.

The SRC says it has ambitions to launch whole constellations of space mirrors capable of directing towards the ground a beam of sunlight as wide as a city.

A Russian space spokeswoman tried to calm fears on Thursday. She said fears of a "second moon" appearing in the sky were nonsense.

"We have been tormented by the media which simply went mad about that, spreading all kind of ridiculous rumours," said Vera Medvedkova from Mission Control in Moscow.

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