• Chinese engineers and scientists plan to launch an artificial moon into space to provide nighttime light to the city of Chengdu.
  • It could be eight times as bright as Earth’s satellite.
  • The artificial moon, technically called an “illumination satellite,” is meant to “complement” Earth’s moon and cut the city’s expenses on streetlights, as well as reduce energy usage, according to the institute behind the plan.
  • Scientists have said that the launch, scheduled for 2020, wouldn’t disturb the Earth’s atmosphere or other celestial observations.

Moonlight might be romantic, but it’s really not all that useful. At only 1/400,000th the brightness of the sun, the moon is usually not enough to illuminate the night.

Chinese scientists and engineers, however, don’t want the residents of Chengdu to have to settle for the dim glow of Earth’s natural satellite. As they announced recently, they can amp up the wattage with an artificial moon blasted into space.

Last week, Wu Chunfeng, the chairman of Chengdu Aerospace Science and Technology Microelectronics System Research Institute,?announced plans to launch an “artificial moon” in 2020. He was speaking at a national mass innovation and entrepreneurship event held in Chengdu, China. Wu said that the point of the fake moon, technically an illumination satellite, was to?replace Chengdu’s streetlights.

The moon has only 1/400,000th the brightness of the sun.
Reuters/Bruno Kelly

According to Wu, the “illumination satellite” would be?eight times as bright?as the actual moon. But he also emphasized that it was designed to “complement the moon at night.” On Earth, its presence would appear as a “dusk-like glow” that could light an area with a diameter of close to 50 miles.

The main driver of this project appears to be cash. As?Chinese outlets have reported, Wu said the second moon would replace traditional energy sources, causing a reduction in energy consumption and contributing to an output value of 20 billion yuan within five years of its launch.

beijing skyline
Not every city in China can be as bright as Beijing.

In response to reporters’ concerns that the artificial light would disturb astronomical observations, Kang Weimin, the director of the Institute of Optics at the Harbin Institute of Technology,?said the artificial moonlight would be equivalent to a bright evening?and not enough to cause any harm to biological systems.

It’s not clear whether the project would be paid for by the city or the Chinese government,?The Guardian reported, but the Chengdu Aerospace Science and Technology Microelectronics System Research Institute is the main contractor for the Chinese space program,?which has matured rapidly since 2015. And the country plans in the coming years?to double the number of launches conducted last year.

While the artificial-moon project sounds like science fiction, something similar has been attempted before. In 1993, Russia launched an illumination mechanism,?called a space mirror, in an effort to increase the length of the day. It used a giant sheet of plastic attached to a spacecraft to reflect sunlight back to Earth. For a moment, the device did direct a beam of light down into Russia, but for people on Earth,?it just looked like the bright pulse of a star.? .. Source