China plans to launch man-made moon capable of lighting up 1960 square miles
Composite stock images | Night skyline photo by Manjik/iStock/Getty Images Plus; full moon photo courtesy of Public Domain Pictures; St. George News
ST. GEORGE — “By the light of the silvery moon” may have a whole new meaning for one Chinese city in 2020 when an illumination satellite, also referred to as an “artificial moon,” is launched into space.
Scientists are planning to hang the man-made moon above the city of Chengdu, one of the most populous cities in Western China, according to a Chinese state media report released Thursday.
The man-made lunar orb is designed to complement the moon at night. It is eight times brighter than the real moon and will cast a “dusk-like glow” over the city, according to the satellite’s developers.
The artificial moon will be capable of lighting up an area as large as 50 miles in diameter, which is a total area of more than 1,960 square miles, but with an illumination range that is so precise it can be controlled within a few feet. The amount of light can also be affected by weather, with less light during periods of overcast, for example.
The man-made moon is actually a satellite carrying a huge space mirror used to reflect sunlight back down towards Earth. The mirror can be adjusted for luminosity and can be completely turned off when needed.
The satellite is expected to be put on an orbit within 310 miles from Earth, quite a bit closer than the actual moon, which orbits more than 230,000 miles from Earth.
The orb launching will function as an experimental satellite to allow scientists the ability to identify any flaws or problems in the design of the object. The Chengdu launch is the forerunner to another launch in 2022, when three more man-made moons are planned to be transported more than 300 miles above Earth.
“By then, the three huge mirrors will divide the 360-degree orbital plane … illuminating an area for 24 hours continuously,” Wu Chunfeng, head of Tian Fu New Area Science Society in Chengdu, said Thursday in an interview with China Daily.
Past fake moon projects
The concept of an illuminating satellite isn’t new — both the U.S. and Russia have explored similar ideas.
In 1993, Russia carried out an experiment called “Banner,” launching a 65-foot-diameter satellite called Znamya. The project was launched in an effort to reduce the costs of lighting existing cities and allow longer workdays in darker regions.
Znamya briefly lit the earth like a giant orbiting night light, according to a report by Smithsonian Institution.
The satellite only remained in the sky for a few days before it caught fire upon reentry into Earth’s atmosphere, but Russian scientists considered it a huge success.
A second, larger mirror was launched six years later, but it ripped before being deployed and also burned up while reentering the earth’s atmosphere.
The cost of illumination
All living creatures, including humans, have an internal clock, known as the circadian rhythm, which is roughly structured to the natural 24-hour day, part of Earth’s predictable rhythm of day and night that is encoded in the DNA of all plants and animals, according to the International Dark Sky Association.
Scientific evidence suggests there are negative and even deadly effects on many creatures, including amphibians, birds, mammals, insects and plants, associated with artificial light at night.
Lights can draw and disorient hatchling turtles, night flying moths, frogs and amphibians. Artificial light affects migration, navigation, plant blooming and when trees lose their leaves.
Genuine moon fast-facts
- The moon orbits nearly 239,000 miles above the earth and is the fifth-largest natural satellite in the solar system. It is the largest among any other moon relative to the size of the planet that it orbits.
- The moon is tidally locked, so only one side of the moon is ever seen from Earth.
- The moon is less reflective than Earth, reflecting only 3 to 12 percent of the sunlight that falls on its surface, while Earth reflects about 42 percent. The sun is also 400,000 times brighter than the full moon viewed from Earth.
- The moon has much weaker gravity than Earth due to its smaller mass. An individual would weigh about one-sixth of what they weigh on Earth.
- The moon neither absorbs nor emits light. Any light from the moon is just reflected sunlight.
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