China is reportedly planning to launch a so-called artificial moon over one of its provinces so as to help with urban illumination at night.
Although the satellite will mimic the way that the real moon illuminates the Earth at night, it is expected to be eight times brighter.
What else can the satellite be used for?
Reports reveal that China is already preparing to launch an artificial moon to be in orbit over Chengdu in the province of Sichuan. 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.
The satellite was designed to complement the moon, with the purpose of helping with nighttime illumination in the area. However, it is predicted to be eight times brighter than the real moon because of its closer proximity to the planet. While the real moon is well over 186,000 miles in distance from the Earth, the satellite will orbit over the Earth at just over 310 miles away.
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.
If the artificial moon illuminates about 19 square miles of the city, Tian Fu New Area Science Society head Wu Chunfeng estimates that Chengdu could potentially save $174 million in electricity costs per year. This is because the artificial moon’s lights could replace some of the streetlights, therefore lessening the energy consumption.
A fascinating feature of the artificial moon is that it can be adjusted in terms of the location and brightness, which means that it could shine on locations where it is needed, such as in areas where there are blackouts, or in disaster situations where illumination is needed in rescue efforts.
According to Wu, the artificial moon is scheduled to be launched by 2020, and three more might be launched in 2022 should the first one prove successful. Should this happen, the artificial moons could take turns reflecting sunlight, or could even illuminate the Earth all at once if necessary. According to Wu, the artificial moons could illuminate about 1,389 to 2,471 square miles of the Earth for 24 hours if it is needed.
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. These detrimental effects are something that may affect humans and animals alike, perhaps similar to the way artificial light already affects us. On this regard, Wu notes that the tests will only be done in uninhabited deserts where it will not interfere with any people.
“When the satellite is in operation, people will see only a bright star above, and not a giant moon as imagined,” said Wu.