China is launching a fake moon to replace city lights

China is launching a fake moon to replace city lights

When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, it really isn’t all that bright: In fact, it’s only 1-400,000th the brightness of the sun. But while moon rays may not be enough on their own to see at night (though with the light pollution we have in the city, it’s easy to forget that) China has been working on a new way to light the sky.

A new moon, rather: Last week, Chairman of Chengdu Aerospace Science and Technology Microelectronics System Research Institute Wu Chunfeng announced plans to launch an “artificial moon” in 2020 to completely replace the city of Chengdu’s street lamps once and for all.

In a manufactured world, natural light is not enough

Speaking at a national mass innovation and entrepreneurship event in Chengdu, China, Chunfeng explained that the fake moon (officially an “illumination satellite”) will offer light 8x as bright as the actual moon – though he also stressed that it will be designed to completely “complement the moon at night” and not wash out the original.

While this sounds like a decadent proposition, it’s actually supposed to save money in the long run. Or short run, for that matter: The second moon will replace traditional energy sources (like streetlights), which will reduce energy use and consumption, and ultimately put 20 billion yuan back in the pockets of Chengdu’s jeans within five years.

It isn’t clear, however, who is footing the initial bill – or whether the project was something commissioned by the Chinese government – but the Chengdu Aerospace Science and Technology Microelectronics System Research Institute is the Chinese space program’s largest contractor.

Fake moon, real environment

What about the waves and the forests and the creatures therein? Reporters at the event did have a few concerns regarding the impact of the added light on the surrounding ecosystem. The director of the Institute of Optics at the Harbin Institute of Technology Kang Weimin, Ph.D., however, assured the crowd that artificial moonlight isn’t bright enough to harm to biological systems – just a bright(er) evening sky with a “dusk-like glow.”

A glow that can light an area 50 miles in diameter.

The Chinese aren’t the first to try and light the sky: the Russians beat them to it all the way back in 1993. Russia wanted a longer (work) day, and launched its own illumination satellite, made from a sheet of plastic attached to a spacecraft, to reflect sunlight back down to Mother Russia. It was called a “space mirror,” and was, ultimately, a failure: The space mirror did send the Russians a beam of light from space, but, unfortunately, the light was only equivalent to the flicker of a bright star (and not the sun) and didn’t extend the day for even a moment longer.

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