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Space Technology

The Russian Plan To Use Space Mirrors To Turn Night Into Day (vice.com) 126

merbs writes: Throughout the early 90s, a team of Russian astronomers and engineers were hellbent on literally turning night into day. By shining a giant mirror onto the earth from space, they figured they could bring sunlight to the depths of night, extending the workday, cutting back on lighting costs and allowing laborers to toil longer. If this sounds a bit like the plot of a Bond film, well, it's that too. The difference is that for a second there, the scientists, led by Vladimir Sergeevich Syromyatnikov, one of the most important astronautical engineers in history, actually pulled it off.
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The Russian Plan To Use Space Mirrors To Turn Night Into Day

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  • Insanity. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 20, 2016 @05:17PM (#51339427)
    Has there been any thought given as to what this might do to the flora and fauna? Screwing up diurnal rhythms, mating seasons, migrations, etc. I mean seriously, this screams terrible idea.
    • by captjc ( 453680 ) on Wednesday January 20, 2016 @05:29PM (#51339523)

      Yeah, but just think of it, a 168 hour work week. People will no longer need to go home at night and can work 24/7! Think of all the profits!

      Plus the syndicates will finally be free of that menace, Batman. There is no Batman if there is no night time.

      • There is no Batman if there is no night time.

        "I am the damp-dreary-overcast-day!"

      • The move won't happen anymore, because it happened already. What you said above was an actual political issue of the early industrialisation, when humans figured out how to make light without having to kill whales, or lighting up candles or some larger fire. These methods were just bad, the versailles hall of mirrors room needed tons of candles in order to be properly lit.

      • But beware of the marshall, because it's always High Noon.

      • If I'm not mistaken that was one of the plot points in Batman and Robin. Using mirrors in orbit to thwart Mr Freeze's plans.
      • Spoken like a true Ferengi
    • Re:Insanity. (Score:5, Informative)

      by wired_parrot ( 768394 ) on Wednesday January 20, 2016 @05:43PM (#51339683)
      From the article, they were planning on lighting up urban areas only. The mirrors wouldn't be large enough to light up more than a city, and the light would only have been the equivalent of a bright moonlight. And cities already have electric illumination at night. So this would only be substituting current electric night time lighting in city centers with the reflected light, which would have the advantage of cutting energy costs. The idea was being pitched as an energy saving measure for city centers. It's not so terrible if limited to urban centers.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        From the article, they were planning on lighting up urban areas only. The mirrors wouldn't be large enough to light up more than a city, and the light would only have been the equivalent of a bright moonlight. And cities already have electric illumination at night. So this would only be substituting current electric night time lighting in city centers with the reflected light, which would have the advantage of cutting energy costs. The idea was being pitched as an energy saving measure for city centers. It's not so terrible if limited to urban centers.

        Sure it's not such a terrible energy saving measure...unless the cost to build the damn thing was eleventy bazillion dollars, sending your ROI into fucking orbit.

        Don't give a shit who you are or what your currency is. Space shit ain't cheap.

        • Sure it's not such a terrible energy saving measure...unless the cost to build the damn thing was eleventy bazillion dollars, sending your ROI into fucking orbit.

          Don't give a shit who you are or what your currency is. Space shit ain't cheap.

          Some quick Googleing and I see that Boston, as an example, spends 8 million annually just on street lights and space X costs $100 to 260 million for a launch. Assuming a 20 year lifespan of the satellite, you end up with $160 million to mess around with. So it's not completely absurd that such a plan might pay for itself if it can be done with a single satellite that is cheap enough and lasts long enough. If doing multiple cities, there might be some savings in manufacture of satellites as they aren't all o

          • Re:Insanity. (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Gavagai80 ( 1275204 ) on Wednesday January 20, 2016 @08:23PM (#51340735) Homepage

            Keep in mind that you can't stop maintaining the street lights and you'll have to use them a lot of nights, because space mirrors don't work when it's cloudy or foggy.

            • Plus with the move to LED street lighting the costs will go down.

            • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

              space mirrors don't work when it's cloudy or foggy.

              They work just fine. When it's cloudy or foggy during the day, it doesn't go pitch black, does it? It just dims. So you have two mirrors, and when it's overcast you use the second one to give you more light to compensate.

              • If we're talking about lighting intensity similar to a full moon or several moons, as in the article, then it does in fact get very dark when clouds cover the moon.

                • Most urban areas get significantly brighter during the night when it's cloudy out because all the light pollution reflects off the clouds (even more so in northern climates when there's also snow on the ground). Obviously, without the streetlights you're going to have a lot less light to reflect, but you could probably get away with a lot less of them.

          • That other $160M will probably need to be spent on the satellite itself (design, construction, monitoring, orbital adjustments, etc). There went the budget! Not to mention ruining your citizen's night vision even more than what they currently experience.

            Street lighting is a good solution as it can be installed only where necessary. Blanketing an entire city with uniform night time lighting is an incredible waste of resources.

            Now if it could be used for energy generation or telecommunications instead, then I

        • The guy who is behind this thing is claiming that the entire system can be built and launched for under a billion.

          (Note that a single launch can launch several mirror satellites.)

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Unless the setting is changed, and the mirrors become concave...then Putin will burn his enemies with THE POWER OF THE SUN!

    • Please! Won't someone think of the fauna?
    • As you get closer to the poles (higher latitude), the diurnal rhythms get a bit messed up, at least for non-native species like us humans. Long nights in the winter results in various health issues and depression. At around 60 N we're talking about only 4 hours of daylight, but a human is most comfortable at around 12 hours of daylight.

      • *shrug* I live at 65 degrees north latitude, and am fine. I know of one or two people who have problems, but most here seem to get along well. In fact, people seem a little more odd in the summer, frenetically busy trying to soak up as much sun as possible. ;-)
        • Your anecdotal evidence aside, seasonal affective disorder exists and while some people have no problems and others have only minor systems, there are numerous studies showing that as your move towards the equator the frequency of the condition in a population diminishes.
          Treatments of phototherapy are usually effective (but not always), and tend to point to daylight hours being a cause.

    • by fche ( 36607 )

      Maybe not much. Each 200m-diameter mirror illuminating a 5700m-diameter area on the ground implies a 1:28 reduction of light intensity right there.

      • Re:Insanity. (Score:5, Informative)

        by Gates82 ( 706573 ) on Wednesday January 20, 2016 @07:00PM (#51340239)
        It would actually be a reduction of 812:1; given that the ratio between the area of two circles is ratio bewteen their diameters squared.

        --
        MGB

      • True, but compare to the coal-black moon, which offers a 1:1,000,000 reduction in light intensity when full, which is still enough light to barely enable color vision. 1:28 would be *bright*, probably brighter than most modern urban centers are currently lit.

    • by Roger W Moore ( 538166 ) on Wednesday January 20, 2016 @06:17PM (#51339901) Journal
      It has already been done - sort of - by a town in Norway [theguardian.com] that uses mirrors to reflect sunlight down into the valley to extend the daylight hours. At a reasonably high latitude in the northern hemisphere there are not many flora or fauna to worry about in the middle of winter in an urban setting.

      The only time you'd need to worry about it is if they focus the light a lot to create a heat based-death ray. That would also be far more like the plot of a bond film...
    • The idea went down in flames and the brilliant engineer (who mankind owes a great deal for his contributions to space exploration) who was behind it died in 2006. This isn't really a news article so much as a "I bet you didn't know about" sort of thing.

      The modern offshoot of this plan is just massive solar generators in space. One of which would supposedly supply a third of the global energy consumption.
    • This should be called 'The Russian Plan to Make Global Warming Worse, Faster'. Of course what do they care? Anyone living in Vladivostok or Siberia probably welcomes global warming.
      • by mysidia ( 191772 )

        They can avoid making global warming worse by diverting light AWAY from the part of the earth that is currently day, thus the results would be more global-warming neutral, AND the tradeoff for making it day 24x7 in one area is that it would be night 24x7 in another area.....

        May I suggest the state of California to be the location to have light diverted away from it, so it becomes nighttime 24x7 there?

        • I've actually heard of ideas to put stuff in the upper atmosphere (light enough to stay there) that would effectively raise the albedo of Earth, reflecting more sunlight back out into space. Not sure how practical it would be. There's also a short story by David Brin where an alien race used millions of small, steerable mirrors to induce an ice age on a planet they later wanted to colonize (they did this because the planet had a sentient species on it, and they weren't very nice aliens). Things like this ar
      • Actually, it would probably be a huge help to *reduce* global warming.

        If I recall correctly burning enough fossil fuels to produce 1 watt-hour of thermal energy produces CO2 which, over the course of it's average lifetime in the atmosphere, will retain a million watt-hours of solar thermal energy. So, you could use reflected sunlight to light up cities a thousand times brighter than they are today, while still adding a thousand times less excess heat to the Earth.

      • Anyone living in Vladivostok or Siberia probably welcomes global warming.

        Vladivostok [wikipedia.org] seems to be a bad example there. It is only a few degrees colder than Moscow, and is a port.

    • Arthur C Clark has a great write up on the subject.
      • If these things are just re-purposed solar sails, how are they expected to stay put in orbit? Won't the sun just blow them away?
    • Most of us live in giant illuminated cities, this is just illuminating these places from space instead of lots of little lights.

      I think you might be overthinking this a tad.

  • by Crashmarik ( 635988 ) on Wednesday January 20, 2016 @05:18PM (#51339441)

    Does take a certain something to try and recast a 20 year old failure as a great success

    • In what sense it is a failure? They failed a single launch for a larger prototype, seemingly for no reasons connected to the prototype itself, and then funding dried up. But the prototype that they did succeed with showed that the idea is sound.

  • by scunc ( 4201789 ) on Wednesday January 20, 2016 @05:20PM (#51339453)
    In Soviet Russia, night lights you!
  • "Ecological Consequences of Artificial Night Lighting"
    [ http://www.urbanwildlands.org/... [urbanwildlands.org] ]

  • ...you are the one
    Only you 'neath the moon or under the sun
    Whether near to me or far
    It's no matter, darling, where you are
    I think of you day and night

  • by garyoa1 ( 2067072 ) on Wednesday January 20, 2016 @05:24PM (#51339491)

    Since global warming is pretty slow. Gotta speed it up somehow.

    • In fact, if you put the mirror into Lagrange point L1, it can be used to prevent some of sun's light to reach earth, thus lowering solar input, and chilling the climate. Probably the idea sounds as insane as the one to build the hoover dam sounded to others back then*...

          (* yes some (not all roads are cool) of the giant buildings trump proposes are insane as well, and I hope it won't be seen differently in the future)

    • Nope, just the opposite. Fossil fuels contribute about 1,000,000x more energy in the form of thermal retention by CO2 than they do as combustion heat. Eliminate the CO2 and you can have 1,000,000 times as much light for the same impact on global warming.

  • by turkeydance ( 1266624 ) on Wednesday January 20, 2016 @05:31PM (#51339557)
    i've been told we need to know.
  • s02e14 "Sun of a Gun" Sylvester's estranged father, a retired general, enlists the team's help after discovering that an African dictator has uncovered a deadly weapon of mass destruction from World War II and intends to use it. The team goes to an African nation to find out if the dictator has sodium panels which can concentrate sunlight before it can be launched on a rocket as a satellite death ray. Walter takes a steam in towels with the dictator who is smitten with his intellect.

    Of course the weapon wa

    • Please stop abusing apostrophes. More than one Nazi are called Nazis. An apostrophe is used when replacing bits like in a contraction (e.g. do not = don't). It is also used for a possessive, e.g. "the Nazi's super weapon was super". Try to remember: don't add an apostrophe unless you have a good reason. To make a plural, just add an S. Anyway, I just had to write this, I'm not even going to post it, it was just lethargic to say something. I don't want to be "that guy", the Grammar Nazi. I don't expect every
      • Anyway, I just had to write this, I'm not even going to post it, it was just lethargic to say something. See also: http://www.angryflower.com/bob... [angryflower.com]

        I really did not mean to post that! Well whatever, I don't mean to post this either. #ApostropheLivesMatter

  • Would it have featured the ability to focus all the light onto a dissident-sized area?

  • change a light bulb? 2.... 1 to call the electrician and 1 to mix the drinks. But really, just use a light bulb.
    • How many software engineers does it take? None, that's a hardware problem! How many hardware engineers does it take? We thought you were going to handle that in software!
  • A narrow-minded genius is actually a dangerous idiot, however the Russians are not alone in their ability to be smart enough to devise and execute such a plan but so lacking in general knowledge that they fail to see the harm it could do. Failing to realise the potential harm to ecosystems that are "clocked" by lunar cycles is about as myopic as any scientist can get.

    Save this madness for your moon colonies..

    Then again it may have really been a cover for "over the horizon" radar reflectors......
  • Yes, of course it can. GoldenEye is soon to become reality (although it obviously wouldn't be as impressive as it was in the movie).
  • Mirror peer into you and take selfie!
  • Because if there's is one thing that labourers are crying out for, it's more time to toil...
  • For those who are not thinking... The purpose of this is to use as a weapon.

  • I certainly wouldn't mind extra sunlight hours, especially in the winter. It's very depressing to wake up in the dark and come home in the dark. That being said, I absolutely wouldn't want it if it meant having to work longer hours.

  • They also use the Space Mirrors to Space Floss.

"I got everybody to pay up front...then I blew up their planet." "Now why didn't I think of that?" -- Post Bros. Comics

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