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Weird Invention: Here Comes the Fake Sun

November 5, 2013

A low-tech/high-tech cure for the winter blues for a city that is is cut off from direct sunlight for five to six months a year.

As the days grow shorter and the nights get colder, a little sunshine can be hard to come by. It’s especially true in Rjukan, a small town in Norway. Because of a nearby, imposing mountain chain, the area doesn’t receive any direct sunlight from September until March.

fake sun mirror project

Seven months of near darkness can get anybody down, as well as deprived of Vitamin D. Fortunately for the residents of Rjukan, there’s a high-tech cure for the wintertime blues.

Nearly seven months of that kind of gloom can get anybody down, even Vitamin D deprived Norwegians that are accustomed to harsh winters. Fortunately for the residents of Rjukan, there’s a solution. At a cost of 5 million Norwegian Kroner (roughly $841,000 in US dollars), three 183-square foot mirrors were installed on a cliff overlooking the town. On clear days – which are unable to discern from the ground in Rjukan – the mirrors reflect the sunlight down into the town square.

If this solution sounds simple – reflecting light – it is, because it was conceived of by Norwegian engineer Sam Eyde in the 1910s. It didn’t pan out until 2005, when local artist Martin Andersen started promoting the idea, drumming up financial support for what he called “The Mirror Project.” They were finally delivered and put in place by helicopters last summer before being given a test spin in early September. Sure enough, they work. With their powers combined, the mirrors blast 656 square feet of sunlight down onto Rjukan.

The light isn’t as powerful as direct sunlight and it can lose as much as 20% of its intensity in the process. Still, that’s better than the alternative. Prior to the mirrors, Rjukan’s residents had to ride a cable car to the top of a nearby precipice to see the sun during the winter months.

The mirrors had their grand unveiling on October 30th. During the ceremony, a local band played, appropriately enough, “Let the Sunshine In.”

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