Who else will attempt to make a fake moon’ but China, right? The country has announced plans to put its own luminary into space to brighten the night skies.
The moon is marked to be in orbit by 2020 and will be bright enough to replace street lights, as revealed by the People’s Daily State Newspaper. The project is being attempted by the private aerospace institute in Chengdu.
The news has attracted fascination, doubt and even outright cynicism from different quarters.
Very little is known about the project.
The People’s Daily first revealed the news was mentioned by Wu Chunfeng, chairman of the institute that plans to launch the artificial satellite, in an innovation conference held.
The idea has been in the works for some years and now that the technology is in place to make it work, it will be launched in 2020, Mr. Wu said.
It’s yet unknown whether the project is being directed by the Chinese government.
How will it work?
Far from simply being for show, the moon is expected to act as a mirror, reflecting sunlight back to earth across an area of between 10km and 80km with brightness ‘eight times’ that of the real moon.
Mr. Wu said the intensity and accuracy of the light would be controlled.
The artificial moon will orbit 500km about the earth. The actual moon orbits on average, about 380,000km above the earth.
Why is it needed?
The Chengdu aerospace officials believe a fake moon will cost less than paying for street lights.
China Daily quoted Mr. Wu as saying illuminating an area of 50sq km could save up to 1.2bn yuan ($173m; £132m) a year in electricity charges.
It could also ‘illuminate blackout areas’ after, say, a natural disaster like an earthquake.
‘Think of this as sort of an investment,’ Dr. Matteo Ceriotti, a lecturer in Space Systems Engineering at the University of Glasgow, said.
‘Electricity at night is very expensive so if you could say, have free illumination for up to 15 years, it might work out better economically in the long term.’
Dr. Ceriotti says the idea is scientifically viable but calls attention to the need for bull’s eye accuracy in positioning the moon so it shines on the intended targets.
The mirror also needs to be colossal to have the desired impact.
Kang Weimin, director at the Harbin Institute of Technology, told the People’s Daily that the ‘light of the satellite would be similar to a “dusk-like glow” and “should not affect animals” routines.’
Chinese social media users have concerns bordering on how the moon will impact nature and the environment.
‘The moon would significantly increase the night-time brightness of an already light-polluted city, creating problems for Chengdu’s residents who are unable to screen out the unwanted light,’ John Barentine, director of Public Policy at the International Dark Sky Association, told news outlet, Forbes.
Dr. Ceriotti also said that if the light is too strong ‘it will disrupt the night cycle of nature and this could possibly affect animals.’
This has been done before.
In 1993, Russian scientists released a 20m-wide reflector, called Znamya, from a supply ship heading to the Mir Space Station, which was orbiting at between 200km and 420km. it beamed a spot of light 5km in diameter to the earth but burned up during re-entry into the earth.
Another attempt to recreate the Znamya failed in the late 90’s.