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Chinese City Wants to Launch Fake Moon to Illuminate Its Streets

Proposed satellite would cover 6- to 50-mile wide stretch of Chengdu with light eight times brighter than that of the real moon

The southwestern city of Chengdu may bask in the glow of an artificial moon as soon as 2020 (Wikimedia Commons)
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A French artist once envisioned a cosmic version of Versailles’ famed Hall of Mirrors, reportedly proposing the creation of an artificial moon powered by a necklace of mirrors that would reflect light back onto the streets of Paris. This bold plan never came to fruition, but as Chinese news outlet The People’s Daily reports, an illumination satellite inspired by the idea may brighten the streets of Chengdu as soon as 2020.

The satellite, which is also known as an artificial moon, will be able to illuminate a roughly 6- to 50-mile wide stretch of the southwestern Chinese city with light eight times brighter than that of the real moon. If all goes well, the fake moon will produce enough light to replace Chengdu’s street lamps. According to The Asia Times, Chengdu’s artificial moon will feature a highly reflective coating that reflects the sun’s rays via solar panel-like wings. The angles of these wings can be tweaked in order to create a precise illumination range of several dozen meters.

Wu Chunfeng, head of the Chengdu Aerospace Science and Technology Microelectronics System Research Institute, unveiled the singular plan at a national mass innovation and entrepreneurship event held last week. Citing the imagined French necklace of mirrors as the impetus for the project, Chunfeng explained that the technology behind the satellite has been in the testing phase for years but is finally near completion.

Although Chengdu, capital of China’s Sichuan province, is set to be the man-made moon’s focus, astronomers across the globe will reportedly be able to spot the satellite’s glow as they search the night sky. Giulio Calenne of Chinese commerce outlet CIFnews writes that the idea has raised concerns amongst those who fear the artificial light could have adverse effects on wildlife and astronomical observation.

Kang Weimin, director of the Harbin Institute of Technology’s School of Aerospace, refutes these concerns, telling Calenne that the satellite will produce a dusk-like glow far too faint to transform night into day.

For now, details on the proposed moon—including further satellite specifications, cost and launch date—remain scarce. As Fortune’s Don Reisinger notes, Chengdu officials hope the project will generate a financial windfall, allowing the city to cut electricity costs and attract tourists.

This isn’t the first time researchers have tried to illuminate the skies with artificial rays. The Telegraph’s Joseph Archer reports that Russian scientists launched a mirror-equipped spacecraft designed to brighten Siberia’s sun-deprived streets back in 1999.

The device, dubbed Znamya 2, collapsed soon after take-off and was subsequently abandoned. Still, the underlying concept embraced by the experiment — which The New York Times described at the time as a test of “the feasibility of illuminating points on Earth with light equivalent to that of several full moons” — remains an enticing prospect. And, by 2020, it may even become reality.

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