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For many of us the onset of winter means shorter daylight hours and therefore less exposure to the sun, but for the 35,000 residents of Rjukan, Norway it means complete darkness. That's because the tiny town situated deep in a valley floor is surrounded by high mountains that block out the sun entirely, during the winter months.
This means that the village is shrouded in darkness even during the day, for six months every year from September to March. For those that can't survive without seeing the sun for so long, there is a solution - Heading to the top of the mountains via a cable car installed by the town's forward-thinking founder Norwegian industrialist Sam Eyde, over a century ago.
However, now thanks to the 'The Mirror Project' an installation of three 17 square meter (183 square feet) mirrors, the residents will not have to go in search of the sun anymore. Controlled by computers, the giant heliostats follow the sun, catching the rays and beaming them down on to the 600 square meter (6,459 square feet) common area where the locals can gather on a daily basis to catch some rays.
Hoisted into position about 450 meters above the town at the top of the valley, the mirrors which cost 5mm Kroners (~$923,000 USD) are not a new idea. They were originally conceived by Sam Eyde a century ago in 1913. However, the technology to implement them was not yet available which is why he settled for the cable car.
Over the years, it was contemplated a few times but most residents did not think it would work and believed it may be a waste of money. Then in 2005, Mark Anderson an artist who had moved to Rjukan from Paris, decided it was time to bring the sun to the residents of the town. In order to convince them in 2006, he led a delegation to the small Italian town of Viganella, whose residents had solved a similar issue by installing mirrors.
Once everyone was on board, they began the arduous task of drawing up the plans and more importantly, raising the funds needed to make this project a reality. While it took a few years, they managed to raise 75% of the cost from corporate sponsors.
And it was all worth the effort when on October 18th, the normally dark town square was flooded with sunlight, appeasing even the die-hard critics that had dubbed it a 'Mickey Mouse' project. Now town officials are hoping that this unusual solution will not only lead to happier residents, but also, be a tourist draw. Their timing may be perfect given that thanks to its rich industrial history and amazing architecture, Rjukan was recently nominated for UNESCO's World Heritage Site list and will most likely be added, by 2015.
Resources: dailymail.co.uk, phys.org.