China plans to launch man-made moon capable of lighting up 1,960 square miles

Composite stock images | Night skyline photo by Manjik/iStock/Getty Images Plus; full moon photo courtesy of Public Domain Pictures; St. George News

ST. GEORGE — “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.

Scientists are planning to hang the man-made moon above the city of Chengdu, one of the most populous cities in Western China, according to a Chinese state media report released Thursday.

The man-made lunar orb is designed to complement the moon at night. 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 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. The amount of light can also be affected by weather, with less light during periods of overcast, for example.

The man-made moon is actually a satellite carrying a huge space mirror used to reflect sunlight back down towards Earth. The mirror can be adjusted for luminosity and can be completely turned off when needed.

The satellite is expected to be put on an orbit within 310 miles from Earth, quite a bit closer than the actual moon, which orbits more than 230,000 miles from Earth.

The orb launching will function as an experimental satellite to allow scientists the ability to identify any flaws or problems in the design of the object. The Chengdu launch is the forerunner to another launch in 2022, when three more man-made moons are planned to be transported more than 300 miles above Earth.

“By then, the three huge mirrors will divide the 360-degree orbital plane … illuminating an area for 24 hours continuously,” Wu Chunfeng, head of Tian Fu New Area Science Society in Chengdu, said Thursday in an interview with China Daily.

Past fake moon projects

The concept of an illuminating satellite isn’t new — both the U.S. and Russia have explored similar ideas.

In 1993, Russia carried out an experiment called “Banner,” launching a 65-foot-diameter satellite called Znamya. The project was launched in an effort to reduce the costs of lighting existing cities and allow longer workdays in darker regions.

Russian space mirror used in “Banner” project | Photo courtesy of Smithsonian Institution, St. George News

Znamya briefly lit the earth like a giant orbiting night light, according to a report by Smithsonian Institution.

The satellite only remained in the sky for a few days before it caught fire upon reentry into Earth’s atmosphere, but Russian scientists considered it a huge success.

A second, larger mirror was launched six years later, but it ripped before being deployed and also burned up while reentering the earth’s atmosphere.

The cost of illumination

All living creatures, including humans, have an internal clock, known as the circadian rhythm, which is roughly structured to the natural 24-hour day, part of Earth’s predictable rhythm of day and night that is encoded in the DNA of all plants and animals, according to the International Dark Sky Association.

Scientific evidence suggests there are negative and even deadly effects on many creatures, including amphibians, birds, mammals, insects and plants, associated with artificial light at night.

Lights can draw and disorient hatchling turtles, night flying moths, frogs and amphibians. Artificial light affects migration, navigation, plant blooming and when trees lose their leaves.

Genuine moon fast-facts 

  • The moon orbits nearly 239,000 miles above the earth and is the fifth-largest natural satellite in the solar system. It is the largest among any other moon relative to the size of the planet that it orbits.
  • The moon is tidally locked, so only one side of the moon is ever seen from Earth.
  • The moon is less reflective than Earth, reflecting only 3 to 12 percent of the sunlight that falls on its surface, while Earth reflects about 42 percent. The sun is also 400,000 times brighter than the full moon viewed from Earth.
  • The moon has much weaker gravity than Earth due to its smaller mass. An individual would weigh about one-sixth of what they weigh on Earth.

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Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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  • beacon October 21, 2018 at 3:25 pm

    So much for the night sky and real moon, but then they probably gave that up for growth and neon lights long ago!

  • DB October 21, 2018 at 4:54 pm

    Good thing it will have a ‘dimmer switch’. If it’s as bright as those panels south of Primm on the way to L.A., everyone will fry like ants in the sun under a magnifying glass.

  • hiker75 October 21, 2018 at 5:30 pm

    And I get upset with the evening glow from St George, Santa Clara and Mesquite.

    Hey, this would be a great target for a military exercise!

  • Redbud October 21, 2018 at 5:40 pm

    I think what’s wrong with this whole idea is that no one can opt out of it. If you live in the area where this artificial light is going to illuminate your backyard, your camping spot, wherever you may be, you have no choice. What if you actually enjoy dark, moonless nights, and don’t want this artificial light shining down on you? It should be left how it is, with the moon being the only “moon” we have, no artificial moons!

    • Mike P October 22, 2018 at 12:19 pm

      redbud. This is China, the citizens have no choice there. (communism)

  • Holden October 21, 2018 at 5:47 pm

    But……. why?

  • sheepobserver October 21, 2018 at 6:33 pm

    I’m not sure if I understand this right, but wouldn’t it be a wiser use of resources to have this satellite illuminate a city than to use electricity/fossil fuels to do so? I mean, the city uses street lights every few hundred feet, residents use security lights around their homes, and gosh knows what other artificial light is out there to illuminate the night. It doesn’t sound like the light goes beyond the city they’re trying to illuminate more than any of the other sources already in use. It doesn’t sound like it’s going to be much more than a full moon’s worth of lighting, but that might be enough to cut electrical usage by a good amount.

    I’m against it, don’t get me wrong, but if it did curb the use of electricity it might not actually be a bad thing? Hmmm, it’s an interesting technology nevertheless.

    I’ll never be convinced that man will make a better system than nature, but we no longer live in a natural world, so man might be on the right track here to harness free energy rather than burning energy to do the same thing?

  • utahdiablo October 21, 2018 at 9:36 pm

    Who the hell do these POS think they are? ….Dr Evil?….too many “Star Wars” reruns in China….Death Star ring a bell?….Oh well, we’ll just shoot it ( or them ) down if it’s bothersome in the future

  • ladybugavenger October 21, 2018 at 10:50 pm

    Don’t worry it will catch on fire

  • John October 22, 2018 at 12:23 am

    Umm. Fact check.

    “The moon is less reflective than Earth, reflecting only 3 to 12 percent of the sunlight that falls on its surface.”

    “The moon neither absorbs nor emits light.”

    Umm. I think that whatever light is not reflected is absorbed. The second line I quoted might need to be amended.

  • Maureen October 22, 2018 at 2:12 am

    Totally narcissistic endeavor capable of disrupting nature and normal sleep patterns.

    Science is, once again, so arrogantly stupid.

    • sheepobserver October 22, 2018 at 6:45 am

      but don’t we already artificially light cities? Aren’t all of the street lights, and household lights artificial, and capable of disrupting nature and normal sleep patterns? Actually isn’t it more real to reflect natural sunlight off a mirror than to artificially use fluorescent lights?

      I get it, technology is scary, but the more I think about it, the more sense it makes to do something like this.

      I imagine there were a lot of people AFRAID of the science behind electrical powered light bulbs. They were probably like, “Science is so stupid, I’ll stick with my wax candles, and oil burning lanterns……..and those mechanical devices with rubber tires that transport people?……..I’ll stick with my horse……”.

      People are so funny.

      Again, though, I’m anti-technology. It’s just that I’m cursed with logic.

    • iceplant October 22, 2018 at 10:51 am

      “Science is, once again, so arrogantly stupid.”

      If this is your overall view of science, might I suggest something?
      Give up using a computer, smartphone, car, house, food, toilet, heck… just give up everything.
      Without science, you would have none of it.

  • KR567 October 22, 2018 at 6:26 am

    Woooooohooooooo ! break out the moonscreen

  • tcrider October 22, 2018 at 9:04 am

    maybe a similar technology could be used to orbit the earth during the day cycle and it could
    act like a solar screen to control the amount of uv and other sun rays hitting the earth, coverage
    of the shadow could be controlled remotely to manipulate drought stricken regions.

  • LunchboxHero October 22, 2018 at 10:14 am

    Did St George News accidentally pull in a story from The Onion?

    • DB October 22, 2018 at 4:35 pm

      On further thought, that’s exactly what I’m thinking…

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