China is to launch a fake "moon" into space that it hopes will illuminate one of the country's biggest cities.
Officials in Chengdu, a city of 14 million people in China's southwestern province of Sichuan, announced plans to place a satellite in orbit by 2020 capable of reflecting sunlight onto its streets at night, claiming it will be bright enough to entirely replace street lights.
The satellite would use a reflective coating to direct light to illuminate an area on earth of up to 50 square miles, according to Wu Chunfeng, chairman of the city’s Aerospace Science and Technology Microelectronics System Research Institute.
The launch follows a similar project in 1999 when Russian researchers planned to use orbiting mirrors to light up cities in Siberia, hoping it would be a cheaper alternative to electric lighting.
The scheme developed by Russia used a device called Znamya 2. It was equipped with a 25-metre mirror to illuminate a three-mile wide patch of land. During its first orbit the craft was destroyed following a collision in space. The scheme was abandoned.
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In remarks first reported by CIFNews, Mr Chunfeng told a science event in Chengdu that the artificial moon, which has been undergoing testing for several years, will produce at least eight times more light than the real moon.
He did not say how much the project would cost.
Scientists have warned the device could disturb wildlife and disrupt systems that observe the earth’s atmosphere.
However, Kang Weimin, a director at the School of Aerospace at the Harbin Institute of Technology, told CIFNews that the satellite will produce a dusk-like glow, meaning it will not affect animals.