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China plans to put an artificial moon in space for lighting up streets and cities at night, said reports quoting a Chinese scientist.

China plans to put an artificial moon in orbit above Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in Sichuan, by 2020.

If the launch proves successful, three more such objects will be launched in 2022, Mr Wu Chunfeng, head of Tian Fu New Area Science Society in Chengdu, told the China Daily in an exclusive interview on Thursday (Oct 18).

The artificial moon will have a reflective coating that can deflect sunlight to Earth, similar to how the moon shines, he said.

The brightness of the artificial moon would be bright enough to replace streetlights and the illumination intensity is expected to be eight times of the moon light.

The moon orbits the Earth about 380,000 km from the Earth, while the man-made moon is expected to be put on an orbit within 500 km from the Earth, the state-run China Daily reported.

The three new man-made moons can take turns reflecting sunlight, as they will not always be in the best position relative to the sun, and together they can illuminate an area of around 3,600 to 6,400 sq km on Earth for 24 hours if desired, he said.

Wu said several notable universities and institutes, including Harbin Institute of Technology and China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp, have evaluated the man-made moon project and given it their approval for trial and demonstration.

Despite the approval, Wu was quick to point out some criticism of the project, including fear of detrimental physiological consequences for people and animals, in which the absence of regular alternations between night and day would disrupt various metabolic patterns, including sleep.

Wu said the light intensity and illumination time can be adjusted and the accuracy of illumination can be controlled within scores of meters. When a man-made moon is orbiting, people can only see a bright star in the sky.

“Using man-made moon to illuminate an area 50 sq km can save 1.2 billion yuan of electric charge,” Wu said. “It can also illuminate blackout areas when natural disasters such as earthquake happen,” he said.

The US and Russia have explored man-made moon, hoping it can bring convenience to night-time activities. In the 1990s, Russia carried out an experiment called Banner, testing the idea of using a mirror to reflect the sun light to Earth. The mirror failed to unfold in space and the experiment was halted.

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