Published: Thu, October 25, 2018
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

China to launch lunar lighting into outer space

China to launch lunar lighting into outer space

The 14,300-square-meter city of Chengdu would be the primal focus of the light from the man-made moon, and astronomers throughout China and overseas should be able to spot the glowing star at night.

"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.

Once launched, the artificial moon will orbit much closer to Earth than the real moon.

It is hoped that the artificial moon will replace streetlights in the urban area. It is eight times brighter than the real moon and will cast a "dusk-like glow" over the city, according to the satellite's developers.

The money-saving illumination satellites project has been developed by a host of universities and institutes in addition to Tian Fu New Area Science Society, such as the Harbin Institute of Technology and China Aerospace Science and Industry Cor.

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.

John Barentine, Director of Public Policy at the International Dark-Sky Association, told Forbes the "solution" to Chengdu's problems "potentially creates significant new environmental problems" - and could increase light pollution by a factor of 47.

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The extra light could be made to shine into disaster zones during blackouts, aiding relief and rescue efforts, he said.

The panels will catch and release light from the sun just as the moon does.

China will launch its first moon from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan in 2020. However, once that's done, the next three satellites "will be the real deal with great civic and commercial potential", stated Chunfeng.

The artificial moon will be capable of lighting up an area as large as 50 miles in diameter, which is a total area of more than 1,960 square miles, but with an illumination range that is so precise it can be controlled within a few feet. Essentially, the artificial moon is an illuminated satellite covered with a reflective coating that will cast sunlight back to Earth to illuminate the streets at night.

The announcement coincides with Chengdu's annual Moon Festival, held in mid-autumn.

However, Wu and his team are aware that the artificial moon could disrupt the sleep and metabolic patterns of people and animals.

"We will only conduct our tests in an uninhabited desert, so our light beams will not interfere with any people or Earth-based space observation equipment", Wu said.

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