Fri, Oct 19, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Chengdu planning artificial moon to replace streetlights

The Guardian

In Chengdu, there is reportedly an ambitious plan afoot for replacing the city’s streetlights: boosting the glow of the real moon with that of a more powerful fake one.

The southwestern Chinese city plans to launch an illumination satellite in 2020.

The artificial moon is “designed to complement the moon at night,” though it would be eight times as bright, the People’s Daily reported.

The “dusk-like glow” of the satellite would be able to light an area with a diameter of 10km to 80km, while the precise illumination range could be controlled within tens of meters — enabling it to replace streetlights.

The vision was shared by Chengdu Aerospace Science and Technology Microelectronics System Research Institute Co (CASC) chairman Wu Chunfeng (武春風) at a national mass innovation and entrepreneurship event in Chengdu last week.

Wu reportedly said testing had begun on the satellite years ago and the technology had now evolved enough to allow for a launch in 2020.

It was not clear whether the plan had the backing of the Chengdu City Government or the Chinese government, although CASC is the main contractor for the Chinese space program.

The People’s Daily report credited the idea to “a French artist, who imagined hanging a necklace made of mirrors above the Earth which could reflect sunshine through the streets of Paris all year round.”

The likelihood of Chengdu’s fake moon rising remains to be seen, but there are precedents for the “moonage” daydream rooted in science, though the technology and ambitions differ.

In 2013, three large computer-controlled mirrors were installed above the Norwegian town of Rjukan to track the movement of the sun and reflect its rays down on the town square.

“Rjukan — or at least a small, but vital part of Rjukan — is no longer stuck where the sun don’t shine,” the Guardian reported at the time.

In the 1990s, a team of Russian astronomers and engineers succeeded in launching a satellite into space to deflect sunlight back to the Earth, briefly illuminating the night-time hemisphere.

The Znamya experiment was to “test the feasibility of illuminating points on Earth with light equivalent to that of several full moons,” the New York Times reported.

“Several” proved an overstatement, but the design was shown to be sound.

A more ambitious attempt, Znamya 2.5, was made in 1999, prompting preemptive concerns about light pollution disrupting nocturnal animals.

A German Ministry of Economics and Technology spokesman was less concerned, saying: “It’s a bit early for April Fool jokes, but this sounds like one.”

However, Znamya 2.5 misfired on launch and its creators failed to raise the funding for another attempt.

The People’s Daily was quick to reassure those concerned about the fake moon’s impact on nighttime wildlife.

It cited Harbin Institute of Technology Institute of Optics, School of Aerospace director Kang Weimin (康為民), who “explained that the light of the satellite is similar to a dusk-like glow, so it should not affect animals’ routines.”

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