China’s alternative to street lights

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China is set to launch an artificial moon into space in 2020 with the aim to replace street lights. Wu Chunfeng, chairman of space contractor Chengdu Aerospace Science and Technology Microelectronics System Research Institute Co (CASC) has told media that the country is two years away from sending a lighting satellite to space, and that the satellite will complement the light of the moon at night.

An artificial moon, the satellite has been designed to illuminate an area as large as 80 km. The illumination satellite has been designed to be eight times brighter than the earth’s natural satellite, and will be focused on the city of Chengdu, one of the three most populous cities in western China. Roughly 14.5 million people live in the region.

The satellite will have a highly reflective coating to reflect light from the sun with solar panel-like wings whose angles can be adjusted to achieve “precise lighting”. The original idea, according to the Chinese press, came from “a French artist”, who imagined hanging a necklace made of mirrors above the earth, which could reflect sunshine through the streets of Paris all year round.

This isn’t the first attempt to use objects in space to light up the earth. In the 1990’s, Russia aimed to mount a 25-meter space mirror on its now defunct Mir space station, but called the project off after the Mir crew was unable to unfold the umbrella-like mirror after it became caught in one of the supply ship’s antennae. According to a CNN report from 1999, the mirror was supposed to work like an artificial moon, reflecting sunlight onto several regions in Russia and other former Soviet republics before reaching Germany and the Czech Republic.

Other research has also been conducted in alternative light forms. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have been working on creating a unique light source by using a watercress plant, which will work as a desk lamp or dim light. The luminous properties can be achieved by embedding specialised nanoparticles into the leaves, which can glow for nearly four hours. The engineers are working on further development in this process and are aiming to make these plants bright enough to provide light to a workspace.

The Chinese project is the most ambitious, though, and has received some criticism already. Concerns have been raised about the impact of such a bright night light on wildlife in the area. There is also concern that the light reflected from space could have adverse effects on the epigenetic clocks of the city’s residents. Kang Weimin, director of the Institute of Optics, School of Aerospace at the Harbin Institute of Technology, has played down these worries, arguing the light of the satellite will be similar to a dusk-like glow, so it should not create any negative effects.



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