If citizens in China’s southwestern Sichuan province have felt like their evenings have been a little on the dark side, they’re in for an unusual surprise. Scientists have plans to construct and launch an “artificial moon” sometime in the next two years with the intent of brightening up the neighborhoods in the city of Chengdu.
The Chinese state media made the announcement recently and the project is an interesting one, to say the least. The plan is to launch a satellite that has been treated with a reflective coating. This manmade celestial body will then reflect sunlight back to earth, just like the real thing. Officials have determined that the streetlights in the city aren’t nearly good enough, so the artificial moon will help.
There are some distinct differences between the fake moon and the real thing. The researchers in the charge of the project suspect that the satellite could be as much as 8 times brighter than the actual moon. It will also orbit the earth much closer than the real thing, circling at only 310 miles as opposed to the moon’s 236,000 miles.
Those combined features might suggest that the city of Chengdu will be lit up like Times Square, but that’s actually not the case. In fact, scientists have said even with its closer proximity and increased illumination when compared to the actual moon, the satellite will likely only generate enough actual light to equate to about 20% of what you get with ordinary streetlights.
The biggest benefit of the project is likely going to be a financial one. With the additional illumination, it’s expected that Chengdu will save over a billion yuan in electricity costs (about $173 million) each year. In addition, the artificial moon could provide critical backup during times of crisis when the electrical grid could be down.
The project still needs to undergo some testing before it will be completely ready for launch. Those tests are planned to be conducted in the desert so that the artificial lighting won’t interfere with anyone until it can be fine-tuned.