China to launch 'artificial moon' by 2020, says new research

Katie Ramirez
October 25, 2018

Reports reveal that China is already preparing to launch an artificial moon to be in orbit over Chengdu in the province of Sichuan.

"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.

"The Chengdu "artificial moon" would have the effect of significantly increasing the nighttime brightness of an already light-polluted city, creating problems for both Chengdu's residents, who are unable to screen out the unwanted light, as well as for the urban wildlife population that can't simply go inside and close the shutters", Barentine told Forbes in an October 18 report.

This "moon" will actually be a satellite - an "illumination satellite", featuring reflective panels that could make it eight times as bright as the real moon.

It is hoped that the artificial moon will replace streetlights in the urban area. Simply put, the so-called artificial moon is an illumination satellite that works in the same way that our natural satellite does - by reflecting the sun's light and onto the Earth.

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The man-made moon will reflect sunlight back to earth, just as the moon does, according to Wu Chunfeng, head of Tian Fu New Area Science Society in Chengdu.

That said, it still will not be enough to illuminate the night sky on its own, as its brightness is expected to be about one fifth of normal streetlights. Extra light can be used in disaster zones during black out, aiding relief and rescue missions. Operators on the Earth will have very precise control over the artificial moon; they'll be able to adjust the reflected light and direct it to specific locations with pinpoint accuracy. Should everything go to plan, organizers say the city could save an average of 1.2 billion yuan ($170 million, €149 million) a year when illuminating an area of 50 square kilometers (19 square miles).

Developers are hopeful the artificial moon will replace streetlights in urban areas.

"The first moon will be mostly experimental, but the three moons in 2022 will be the real deal with great civic and commercial potential, " Wu added.

Naturally, there are critics of the project, stating that long-term illuminations from the artificial moon could alter and disrupt natural metabolic and sleeping patterns without the normal night and day alternations. The testing of the light beams will be done in an uninhabited desert so that it does not interfere with any people or Earth observatories. Kang Weimin, director of the Institute of Optics, School of Aerospace, Harbin Institute of Technology, told People's Daily that the moon would not disturb nocturnal animals because it would never get brighter than dusk.

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