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Chinese city plans to replace street lights with an artificial moon

Light-pollution activists have denounced the idea calling it a ‘novel approach to an already solved problem’
by TR Pakistan

The Chinese city of Chengdu may soon get its very own moon. Speaking at a national mass innovation and entrepreneurship event in the city on October 10, the chairman of Chengdu Aerospace Science and Technology Microelectronics System Research Institute (CASX), Wu Chunfeng announced plans to launch an ‘illumination satellite’ over the city in 2020.

According to Chunfeng, this artificial moon will be eight times as bright as the actual moon, enough to completely replace streetlights. Light emitted from the satellite will be able to illuminate an 80 kilometer diameter. The satellite will carry mirrors that will reflect light onto the city.

Chunfeng’s ambitions do not end here. There are also plans to launch three additional moons into space in 2022. “By then, the three huge mirrors will divide the 360-degree orbital plane, illuminating an area for 24 hours continuously,” said the CASX chairman.

Read more: The days on Earth are getting longer – thanks to the moon

He believes that using man-made moons to replace street lights offers great economic benefits. Elaborating on this, he stated that using this technology to light a 50 square kilometer area can save power worth 1.2 billion Yuan or approximately $170 million.

These plans have been met with criticism by some.

The director of public policy at The International Dark-Sky Association, John Barentine has termed the idea a “novel approach to an already solved problem.”

Elaborating on the potential negative fallout of launching artificial lights into space, Barentine said “the Chengdu ‘artificial moon’ would have the effect of significantly increasing the nighttime brightness of an already light-polluted city, creating problems for both Chengdu’s residents, who are unable to screen out the unwanted light, as well as for the urban wildlife population that can’t simply go inside and close the shutters.”

The size and illumination potential of these satellites are not available as yet, thus it remains unclear if the brightness of the proposed space mirrors could interfere with local wildlife. In what seemed like an attempt to allay these concerns, Kang Weimin, the director of the Institute of Optics of the Harbin Institute of Technology in China, gave the Chinese press a statement saying the light would amount to only a “dusk-like glow.” However, this statement seems to contradict Chunfeng’s earlier claim that the light from a single satellite would be eight times as bright as the actual moon.

The plan to create artificial moons comes as NASA marks “International Observe the Moon Night” tonight. At least 761 moon-gazing events are planned at museums, planeteria, observatories, schools and universities across the globe.