The Moon is great, but apparently it’s just not enough for the city of Chengdu in China. Not satisfied with the meager light the Moon reflects back down to Earth at night, scientists in the region plan to launch a satellite that will actually reflect sunlight back down to Earth and turn night into day… sort of.
The satellite is effectively a giant mirror that will redirect sunlight back down on Chengdu even after the Sun sets. The spacecraft will be roughly eight times brighter than the Moon, according to the Chengdu Aerospace Science and Technology Microelectronics System Research Institute, and should provide enough light that it will actually make street lights totally irrelevant for at least part of the city.
If this all sounds kind of bizarre that’s because it is. It really, really is. The group planning the satellite says the mirror will produce light over an area of between 5 and 50 miles. That’s, well, not a very specific, and it’s unclear from current reports just how long the satellite will last.
There’s also been some very real concern that the mirror’s never-ending glow could seriously impact natural cycles of animals. Scientists have long been critical of human light pollution and its ability to potentially throw off the day/night rhythm of animals, and the same could be true of this fake moon plan. Some experts who support the plan suggest that it’ll produce little more than a “twilight glow” that shouldn’t change how animals behave, but nobody will know for certain until the satellite is up and running.
The institute working on the satellite plans to have the fake moon deployed by 2020. There seems to be some conflicting information over just how bright the light will be — something bright enough to make street lights obsolete sure sounds like it’s brighter than a “glow” — so it’ll be interesting to see just how well the mirror works… or doesn’t.