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article imageA city in China may soon have a second moon in its evening sky

By Karen Graham     Oct 18, 2018 in Technology
Officials in the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, have unveiled a science-fiction-like plan to launch what’s known as an illumination satellite, or “artificial moon,” by 2020.
According to China's People's Daily Online, Wu Chunfeng, chairman of Chengdu Aerospace Science and Technology Microelectronics System Research Institute Co., Ltd. made the announcement at a national mass innovation and entrepreneurship activity held in Chengdu on Oct. 10.
Wu is claiming the artificial moon is “designed to complement the moon at night," though it would only be eight times as bright, it would do away with the need for street lights. The artificial moon's "dusk-like glow" will illuminate an area with a diameter of 10-80 kilometers (6 to 49 miles).
Cities around the world have been enjoying the spectacle of an unusually big and bright moon
Cities around the world have been enjoying the spectacle of an unusually big and bright moon
Adrian Dennis, AFP
The artificial orb has a highly-reflective coating to reflect light from the sun and solar panels that can be adjusted to give precise illumination within 10 meters (33 feet). Astronomers around the world would be able to gaze upon the man-made moon.
But Wu says the artificial moon would save the city on its electric bill because street lights would no longer be needed, while others have suggested the man-made moon would be a great tourist attraction, too.
The idea is not that new
Wu claims the artificial moon has been in the works for a number of years, and the technology has now evolved enough to plan a launch in 2020. It is not known if the city of Chengdu is backing this project, or, for that matter, the Chinese government. But the company Wu works for is also Beijing's main contractor for its space program.
Artist’s illustration of Russian Mayak satellite in orbit  with its reflectors unfurled.
Artist’s illustration of Russian Mayak satellite in orbit, with its reflectors unfurled.
Mayak Project
As a matter fact, last year, a Russian team attempted to deploy an artificial moon, claiming it would be "the brightest object in the night sky, after the moon." The Mayak satellite launched from Baikonur spaceport on July 14, 2017, aboard a Soyuz 2.1a rocket. Actually, it was a communications satellite.
While a number of space enthusiasts claimed to have seen what they believed to be the spacecraft in orbit, in August of 2017 the team behind the Mayak Project revealed the solar reflector failed to unfurl in orbit.
The Moon is seen as it sets behind the National Capitol Columns at the US National Arboretum on Wedn...
The Moon is seen as it sets behind the National Capitol Columns at the US National Arboretum on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018 in Washington.
NASA/Aubrey Gemignani
Going back a bit further, in 1993, Russian engineers devised a plan to use giant mirrors to light up the night skies, launching a giant glistening sheet of aluminum-coated plastic film unfurled into a 65-foot diameter "space mirror" from the now-defunct MIR space station. The Znamya experiment was to “test the feasibility of illuminating points on Earth with light equivalent to that of several full moons," but it never got off the ground.
A second attempt, called Znamya 2.5, was to be made in 1999, prompting preemptive concerns about light pollution disrupting nocturnal animals and astronomical observation. But that attempt went down the tubes after a misfire at launch and no other funding has been made available.
Opposition to an artificial moon
There is a lot of opposition to messing with the rhythm of light and dark, or circadian rhythms in man and animals. And this is the biggest worry for many scientists and anybody else who may have questions about the artificial moon project.
Bracken cave  in Texas  is well known for its huge colonies of Mexican free-tailed bats.
Bracken cave, in Texas, is well known for its huge colonies of Mexican free-tailed bats.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
I don't think an artificial light in the sky would have been very helpful during the WWII London Blitz or any other wartime bombing raids, other than being helpful to those dropping the bombs.
And keep in mind that many animals, from owls, bats, and insects, are dependent on the night skies to go about their life cycles. It has been found that in Australia's Great Barrier Reef, hundreds of coral species simultaneously release their eggs and sperm in an annual mass spawning event linked to the level of moonlight, according to Live Science.
But the best reason for not putting an artificial moon in the night sky is really simple - Number one, we don't need any more space garbage floating around in our sky, and number two, why mess with something that doesn't need fixing?
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