Changing Planet

Bringing Sun to a Norweigian City in the Shadows

The Norwegian town of Rjukan sits in an unfortunate spot. During the winter, the nearby Gaustatoppen mountains block the sun entirely, leaving the town’s 3,500 people in a frigid shadow for five months.

Rather than wait for the Earth’s tilt to change, which might take a few million years, the town has a more immediate plan. It’s called the Solspeil, which means sun reflector in Norwegian. Starting in late October, three large mirrors will sit at the top of the mountains and follow the sun across the sky. They’ll reflect a single beam of light about 2,100 square feet (200 square meters) into the Rjukan’s town square. Collectively, the mirrors will act as an artificial sun. People who are deficient in Vitamin D or those who simply miss the feeling of sunlight can stand in the sun all day, so long as there’s room in the beam.

The project sounds a little like science fiction—or with a modern slant, like an idea to geoengineer the sun to keep the planet’s climate in balance.

But Rjukan’s idea is actually more than 100 years old. The man who founded Rjukan, Samuel Eyde, thought that the town was perfect, but could benefit from some winter sunlight. The logistics of the project were too complicated in 1913, but nowadays, a collection or artists and businesspeople are making it happen. The price tag—a steep but not exorbitant $847,000 (5 million Norweigian Krones)—is being bankrolled by the town and a few Norwegian corporations.

I caught up with Kjell Gunnar, who’s helping develop the project. Beyond from the novelty, I asked him what he was hoping would come out of this idea. The city of Rjukan is known for ambitious projects, he told me. Beyond that, international attention would be nice.

Not to mention more tourists. Aside from the no-sun-in-the-winter downside, he pointed out that Rjukan has some of the best skiing, ice climbing, and mountain biking anywhere in Norway. I haven’t been there myself to verify, but for a place willing to pursue such a quirky idea, I’ll take his word that it’s a unique place.

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