“Space … the final frontier.”
That, of course, is the opening line from the first “Star Trek” series. No one (outside of China, as we will soon see) would watch if the line was, “Space, the next street light.” Yet that’s exactly what the Chinese space program is saying. In 2020, it plans to launch a satellite with a reflective coating that it claims will be capable of beaming sunlight at night on a 50 square mile area that apparently hasn’t yet heard of street lights. Or Las Vegas. Or what animals and humans do when they can’t sleep. What could possibly go wrong?
“The satellite light will be like a twilight glow.”
Kang Weimin – the director of the Institute of Optics at the Harbin Institute of Technology’s School of Aerospace – gave that very non-technical description after the announcement by Wu Chunfeng -- chairman of Chengdu Aerospace Science and Technology Microelectronics System Research Institute Co. – that Chengdu, a city 0f 14 million residents in southwestern China, will soon get a second moon “eight times brighter than the Moon” (please update your definition of “twilight” to ‘reflect’ this). At a technology conference in Chengdu, he told the audience that the beam from this satellite will be bright enough to entirely replace street lights.” (Better update “twilight” again.) Why? Chengdu Business Daily gives one answer:
“According to reports, in the civilian sector, the project can replace night street lighting, saving a lot of infrastructure electricity consumption. In view of the 50 square kilometers of Chengdu, providing radiation, for example, can save electricity costs of about 1.2 billion yuan ($173 million USD) per year.”
People's Daily reports that Chengdu officials also expressed that the artificial moon would increase tourism (see Las Vegas and New York City) while Asia Times points out that the light can be directed to specific locations such as construction sites or disaster areas.
What could possibly go wrong? Ask the people who live in far northern or southern areas with summers filled with midnight suns. Or ask their psychologists who say perpetual sunlight affects internal clocks, creates a feeling of perpetual jet lag and contributes to insomnia and all of its associated serious problems (see Insomnia). The artificial moon will certainly upset astronomers who will be able to see it as its light blocks their view, and it will affect businesses that depend on night darkness. (Note to self: sell stock in nightlight company.)
Then there’s the animals. Kang Weimin says the all-night “twilight” won’t affect them, but that’s not the case in midnight sun areas, which report the animals are out hunting longer, birds are chirping and crowing at all hours, bears are cranky from not hibernating and those all-important nighttime insect-eating bats are eating less often. And those are just the obvious signs.
What could possibly go wrong? Plenty. Enough to offset the profits of a billionaire space entrepreneur, his rich business friends and money-hungry government officials? What do you think?
"Space ... the final profit center."