As you may have heard, China announced that their artificial Moon will be launched in 2020. No more night! Yes, they’re abolishing full darkness. It’s a bad idea but not a new one.
The idea is an enormous 80 foot mirror placed into a geosynchronous orbit where it will remain glued to the same spot in the sky. From its altitude of 22,300 miles it will focus sunlight onto the city of Chengdu in southwestern China. That city of 14 million people will then be continually illuminated. No more night.
Russia actually launched such an artificial moon in 1999 to illuminated parts of Siberia, but the satellite failed soon after launch. So this idea is definitely workable, and not even particularly high-tech since the giant mirror needn’t be of telescope quality to do the job.
No More Night
The question is, should we abolish full darkness?
The proposed Chinese space mirror would look like an intensely brilliant dot, about 10,000 times brighter than the planet Venus. It will appear eight times brighter than the full moon, but all that luminosity will not be in a discernible disk like the real Moon, but instead be concentrated in a dimensionless point like a star. The resultant dazzling spot would be uncomfortable to look at directly, and possibly hazardous to the eye.
But it’s true: street lights would no longer be necessary. It would end up being far less expensive then installing thousands of street lights and supplying the power to operate them.
A Really Bad Idea
Why is this a monumental bad idea? Beyond the aesthetic and astronomical concerns, and the zoological hazards to birds and other nocturnal animals, there are the biological issues.
Humans have evolved to where we need periodic darkness.
The natural nightly cessation of brightness creates a vital cycle of melatonin production, and scientists have found that women who work the graveyard shift or those whose bedrooms have even small degrees of incessant nocturnal illumination have increased breast cancer rates. Indeed, a lack of full darkness has been found to be the surest of all breast cancer causes.
So, let’s just make sure that this fake-Moon business never happens here.