Always wished the Earth had a second moon? Then you will be pleased to hear that the Chengdu Aerospace Science and Technology Microelectronics System Research Institute has plans to launch multiple mini moons, the first one of which will appear in the skies as early as 2020.
The exciting announcement was made by the Institute’s Chairman, Wu Chunfeng, at the National Mass Innovation and Entrepreneurship Conference held in Chengdu from October 9 to 15, 2018. Similar to our natural satellite, the artificial orb’s light will be obtained from the sun and reflected to Earth by its mirror-like coating. However, since the mini moon will be situated a mere 300 miles above the city of Chengdu, it will appear eight-times brighter than the real moon. According to Chunfeng, the amount of light being reflected can be controlled from Earth and even switched off, if necessary.
While the multiple mini moons will certainly appear picturesque, the purpose of this challenging endeavor is to conserve resources. The Chengdu Aerospace experts assert the mini moon’s dusk-like glow will allow them to eliminate costly streetlights in China’s bustling cities. They estimate that using the artificial satellite to light up just 31 square miles (50 square kilometers) of Chengdu’s night sky will save the city an estimated 1.2 billion yuan ($174 million) annually. Since the orb’s location can be easily moved, it could also be used to shine light over disaster-struck areas that have lost power.
Once the first mini moon is working successfully, the experts plan to launch three additional ones, hopefully by 2022. Together, the satellites, which will take turns depending on their position relative to the sun, are expected to light up an area of 2,000 to 4,000 square miles (3,600 to 6,400 square kilometers). While the orbs will be visible through a telescope from anywhere on the globe, their real beauty will only be seen by visiting the city. The officials, therefore, believe they will be a huge tourist draw, helping boost Chengdu’s economy.
As is often the case with radical breakthroughs, the artificial moons are causing apprehension among some experts. They are concerned about the moons’ impact on the sleep patterns of both humans and animals. However, Chengdu Aerospace officials believe the satellites will cause minimal, if any, disruption.
“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,” Chunfeng told China Daily. “When the satellite is in operation, people will see only a bright star above, and not a giant moon as imagined.”
The idea of creating artificial moons to save energy is not new. In the 1990s, Russia attempted to launch a solar-reflecting system of mirrors called the Znamya 2 into space. However, the project was scrapped after one of the satellites was destroyed during deployment. If the Chinese scientists are successful, it could herald a new wave in harnessing the sun’s energy and result in mini moons popping up over busy cities across the world. Watch out Jupiter: your 67 satellites may soon pale in comparison to the ones on Earth!
Resources: Forbes.com, astronomy.com, livescience.com, interestingengineering.con