China has always had a special love for 'grand' schemes. The latest? A Scheme to possibly create 'moons' in a geo stationary orbit over select cities to reflect light to them and lower costs of streetlighting.
Before we get into the story, it is interesting to look back to a fascinating event from 2013, in the town of Rjukan, in Norway. The town, at the bottom of a valley with steep hills on both sides, faced the slightly depressing prospect of being without any direct sunlight for six months each year, September to March. While most of Norway go through the same fate from December to March, for Rjukan, the period was extended thanks to the steep cliffs, which effectively placed the town in shadow for the extended period. In fact, a corporate firm had even set up a cable car for the townspeople to use to travel to the top where the sunlight could reach, and have a coffee with the view.
That is until 2013, when an artist and a lifeguard, Martin Andersen, got the idea to install mirrors at the cliffs, that would reflect the sun’s light to the town’s square during the Sept-Dec period, giving folks at least a small but exhilarating experience of sunlight where none existed. The mirrors or solar mirrors as they are called have become a feature now.
Cut to the present day China, where thinking big is a pre-requisite for projects, it would seem. If becoming the leading solar energy country in the world, and that too by a big margin wasn’t enough by day, China is apparently planning to launch its own ‘artificial moon’ by 2020 to use sunlight to replace streetlamps and lower electricity costs in urban areas, according to local reports.
Scientists are hoping to put the man-made moon in orbit above the city of Chengdu, in southwestern Sichuan province. The imitation celestial body, essentially an illumination satellite, will make use of a reflective coating to cast sunlight back to Earth, where it will supplement streetlights at night.
Scientists have predicted that the satellites could be eight times more luminous than the actual, original moon. And that it will also orbit much closer to Earth; about 500 km (310 miles) away, compared to the moon’s 380,000 km (236,000 miles). But the ambitious plan still wouldn’t “light up the entire night sky,” Wu Chunfeng, chief of the Tian Fu New Area Science Society, told China Daily. “Its expected brightness, in the eyes of humans, is around one-fifth of normal streetlights.”
Wu estimated that the new moons could save the city of Chengdu around 1.2 billion yuan ($173 million) in electricity costs annually, and could even assist first responders during blackouts and natural disasters. If the project proves successful, it could be joined by three more additions to the night sky in 2022, he added.
The first man-made moon will launch from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan, though the first launch will be experimental, the 2022 satellites “will be the real deal with great civic and commercial potential,” Wu said. But much more testing needs to be done, to ensure the plan is viable and will not have a detrimental effect on the natural environment, Wu said while mentioning that all testings will be done in isolated environments away from civilisation.
The plan has all the hallmarks of progress, as measured by China’s ruling communist party. It is huge, spectacular, and seeks to bend nature to the will of human endeavour. Will nature oblige? Let’s wait and see.