Norwegian Town Builds Artificial Sun To Light Up Five Months Of Darkness

The far north or south isn't the only place on Earth that spends the winter locked in perpetual darkness. Beginning in September and ending in March, the tiny Norwegian town of Rjukan is cast into a perpetual shadow. But no longer: this month, engineers are completing The Mirror Project, a system that will shed winter light on Rjukan for the first time ever.

A few days ago, helicopters descended on the 3500-person town to install three huge rectangular mirrors on the face of the mountains that pin Rjukan in on either side. Technically, these are heliostatic mirrors, which are controlled by a central computer that tilts their positioning to reflect the sun onto a specific, static location. (It's more common to find them on solar farms, for example.)

The "hot spot", in this case, is a 185sqm circle on the town square -- soon to be converted into an ice rink (apparently, the reflected light still won't be terribly warm). When Rjukan begins to fall into shadow roughly a month from now, the mirrors will begin their first tests. "The project will result in a permanent installation which, with the help of the 30sqm mirrors, will redirect the sun down into the valley," explained town reps. "The square will become a sunny meeting place in a town otherwise in shadow." The entire operation, amazingly, is set to cost less than a million dollars.

As lovely as it is, the Mirror Project forces us to wonder: Why was Rjukan built in the first place? In fact, it was settled around the turn of the century, when a famed Norse industrialist named Sam Eyde built a hydroelectric factory in the valley. It turns out that Eyde had the mirror idea first -- but had no way to implement it. According to TIME, his alternative was to build a cable car that workers could use to escape the valley floor for a few hours on weekends.

Pictures: Karl Martin Jakobsen via Visit Rjukan

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