This story is kind of crazy. We regularly write about interesting inventions and scientific and technological developments coming out of China — we have a whole section called Innovation after all — and sometimes those “new ways of thinking” can seem a little odd, but a recent headline out of Sichuan might be one of the weirdest ideas we’ve heard about in a while. If you can believe it, Chengdu wants to create a “fake moon”.
Our moon has served as a source of inspiration for countless Chinese poets and sages (just ask Tang Dynasty poet and moon/baijiu fan Li Bai). Even the traditional Chinese calendar follows lunar cycles. But our lunar light has apparently inspired a new genre of creativity: Xichuang Satellite Launch Center near Chengdu in Sichuan province has announced plans for a man-made moon — and they’re due to have it in operation by 2020.
A satellite will be used to reflect light from the sun, kind of in the same way the real moon shines at night. The project aims to provide a source of light which can be easily controlled during the nighttime, with hopes that the satellite can ultimately serve as a replacement for streetlights. The satellite will reportedly be able to produce a light with eight times the intensity of the natural moon and can be used to illuminate areas up to 50 miles in diameter.
Social media reactions have been understandably severe.
“#ManMadeMoon What is this sham news? The moon in its natural waxing and waning is the most beautiful. What’s the purpose of hanging up something like this? Does this thing have the radiance of the moon? Can it even illuminate or generate electricity?”
Most critics raise concerns that this “Man Made Moon” will interfere with natural cycles of night and day. The posts below are representative of the reaction of many Chinese netizens:
“Humanity has already interfered enough in nature, can adding something like this really be a good thing?”
“Why do I think this violates the laws of nature… will this lead to a series of other effects?” wrote another.
Chengdu officials and scientists such as the Director of Tianfu New District’s System Science Research Association, Chunfeng Wu, have been quick to point out that the intensity of the light is not high enough to have a considerable effect on animals’ natural patterns of work and rest, as the satellite will only produce one fifth of the intensity of street lights, similar to the light intensity produced around dusk.
Other sources such as CCTV News believe the project could serve as an important step in harnessing more sustainable forms of energy. Past solar energy projects have focused on converting the sun’s rays into electricity, while this initiative offers a new way of using such power.
Against critics claiming that such a project must have international approval, some news sites hold that other countries have attempted similar feats, such as Russia in the 1990s. “Currently China, Russia, the US, Japan, and the EU are already conducting research on space energy application projects,” added Chunfeng.
If the artificial moon project really is a notable step in space science, its success could be a new dawn for the way we view and utilize sustainable sources of energy (or perhaps, a new dusk).
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