When the 2020 Summer Olympics begin in Tokyo, attendees might find themselves looking up into the night sky to see an unprecedented public spectacle. If an event production firm called ALE Co. has its way, an artificial meteor shower will begin, a spray of tiny manufactured objects falling from space and igniting in the Earth’s atmosphere upon reentry.
These artificial meteors will be dropped by satellite.
Mixed in amongst the television signals and invisible communications relays bouncing down from space will be minuscule particles, only a few millimeters in size, made from elements such as lithium, calcium, strontium, rubidium, and copper, each of which releases a different hue when burned. Think of it as a thousand Olympic torches, falling from an otherworldly height—in the process, revealing the global ubiquity of satellites.
Usually ignored and rarely contemplated, this ultra-high-altitude realm of orbiting spacecraft will be given a newly incandescent role, releasing storms of light and color for nearly 30 million people in the Tokyo region to see—before disappearing again into darkness, where they normally reside.
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Satellites are easy enough to overlook. They beam radio shows around the globe, to cars stalled in endless traffic jams; they send television series from one side of the Earth to the other, bringing NFL games and Game of Thrones alike to viewers huddled in homes and apartments. Satellites have simply become part of how things work now. They’ve been absorbed into the conceptual background of the world, little more than infrastructure, a celestial version of electrical lines cutting through a field or forest—and, it seems, entirely unromantic because of it.