China is reportedly in the process of creating an “artificial moon” that would be bright enough to replace the streetlights in the south-western city of Chengdu by 2020.
The illuminated satellite is said to be eight times brighter than the real moon, according to state media People’s Daily, and forms part of the country’s growing ambitions in space.
Chinese scientists plan to send three artificial moons into space in the next four years, and the moons – made from reflective material like a mirror – are expected to orbit at 500 kilometres above the Earth and light up an area with a diameter of 10 to 80 kilometres.
Wu Chunfeng, chairman of Chengdu Aerospace Science and Technology Microelectronics System Research Institute Corporation which developed the project, said the illuminating satellite would provide a “dusk-like glow”.
“The satellites’ brightness and service time are both adjustable, and the accuracy of the lighting can be controlled within tens of metres,” Mr Wu told the state media agency earlier today.
Mr Wu added the three artificial moons would operate alternately in order to significantly reduce infrastructural electricity consumption, especially during winter.
The illuminated satellite is designed to complement the moon at night.
‘Who paid for it and what is the purpose?’
Mr Wu said lighting from the artificial moon covering 50 square kilometres in Chengdu could save about 1.2 billion yuan ($240 million) in electricity costs every year.
It could also be used to light up areas experiencing power outages caused by natural disasters such as earthquakes, he said.
Despite the economic benefits, many on Chinese social media platform Weibo were concerned with potential negative effects, such as how it would affect sleep and how much the project would cost.
“What is the point of creating an artificial moon that breaks the laws of nature?” Shaolin Xu, a famous commentator who has 1.4 million followers on Weibo, said on his account.
“Who paid for it and what is the purpose of launching it?”
“This is definitely a good project for saving energy and reducing pollution,” another Weibo user commented.
While People’s Daily quoted Mr Wu as saying the brightness of the artificial moon would be bright enough to replace streetlights, another state-run media outlet, Xinhua, quoted Mr Wu as saying the brightness would only be about a fifth of that of streetlights.
Xinhua reported that the idea for the man-made moon originated from a French artist who imagined hanging a necklace made of mirrors in the sky to light up the streets of Paris at night.
Russia attempted to launch a 25-metre “space mirror” but the project was put off in 1999.