September 09, 2012

Let Us Build A Second Moon

I have had this idea probably since a decade and a half.
My idea is simply this: why can’t there be a permanent full moon out there in the evening sky? Of course, those of you who have always been city dwellers need to get out of your cities and go into the countryside and experience a moonless starry night for yourselves and see the dazzling vista that it presents. And you need to sit on a sea beach on an evening when there is a full moon in the sky and experience something which is awe-inspiring and timeless. We need to find time in our busy lives to spend some time in the lap of nature and reflect on the grandeur of the universe which has been there for almost forever and unless we humans do something drastic selfishly, will go on almost forever as well. Why I use the word ‘almost’ is because, of course, nothing in nature is permanent – nothing really lasts forever. Even the mountains and the oceans and indeed this planet that we inhabit and the moon that we admire and the sun which gives us almost all of the energy – all these have a lifetime. All of these came into being some time in the distant past and will eventually turn into something else after millions and billions of years.
But on the scale of a human lifespan, so much of nature appears unchanging and eternal.
The Moon, for instance.
So, my idea regarding a second moon is what if we send a second moon up into the sky. Well, not another moon in 3D exactly, but something that will have the circular disc shape of the natural Moon that we see on the night sky of a full moon day. So, my idea is to send a structure into geostationary orbit – say, a honeycomb structure. We certainly have powerful geostationary satellite launchers in the United States and Russia and Europe and even Japan and China and India have taken strides in that direction.

So, we could have a foldable structure like the solar panels of the satellites which unfurl once up in space. There could be a honeycomb shaped structure made of titanium or carbon fiber or some other similar lightweight and strong and durable material and then we need to wrap a layer of aluminum foil or similar lightweight material to create a reflective surface which will reflect sunlight.
This honeycomb structure can be made circular like the full moon. And for this shape to have the relative size of the natural Moon, the dimensions would roughly need to be as follows: the Moon is roughly 2,000 km in radius and is at a distance of about 4, 00,000 km. I have rounded these figures rather egregiously, I know, so science guys, sorry, and please bear with me as the main idea here is to give rough numbers. So, the geostationary orbit is at a distance of about 40,000 kms (again, science guys, don’t open wikipedia to confirm that; to be exact, it is approximately 35,786 km).
And for those from a non-science background, the geostationary orbit is where all the TV satellites (like INSAT) are placed. So, we get to see all those nifty programs on TV only because there are hundreds of satellites in the geostationary orbit. And why is one going on and on about a geostationary orbit? Well, because if you put something there, then that object will make one revolution of the Earth in 24 hours: that is as much time as the Earth takes to make a rotation around itself. So, to a person on Earth, any object in a geostationary orbit will appear to be ‘stationary’.
So, if we create this circular-shaped reflective surface at a distance of about 40,000 km from Earth and with a radius of about 200 km, then to us standing here on Earth, it will have roughly the same size as the Moon.
So, what one is talking about here is creating a reflective surface of an area of about 120,000 sq. km. So, engineers out there, it’s up to you guys to get your calculators out and make calculations of how much the skeleton of such a structure is likely to weigh. I don’t think the reflective surface to be made out of Mylar film or silver or aluminum is likely to be a ‘weighty’ issue at all…
So, keeping in mind that the Internal Space Station is a reality today, I am looking forward to receiving comments as to how feasible it might be to put up something like this in a geostationary orbit.
Readers might be wondering what a ‘loony’ idea this is! Why on Earth should there be such a thing. Well, one is aesthetic. It could be a beautiful sight. The other reason why I want this to take place is rather practical and more important for me. The reason the idea occurred to me in the first place is that many years ago, I used to visit my ancestral village and during the evenings, the village roads would be so dark and spectral and  I remember if there was a full moon in the sky, one could see the road ahead so clearly.
So, if we can have a full moon out there every evening, then it would be the equivalent of putting up street lights in every village in India. That’s the prospect that makes me really excited – that we can have this ‘natural’ street light. Imagine all the energy that is going to be saved in the process and in these days of a looming Climate Catastrophe, I don’t think this is a factor that can be ignored.
And of course, in time there will be other uses for such an object. A geostationary moon parked over India would be invisible to people in, say, the United States. May be, they will want to have their own moon – just for the heck of it. May be, the Bransons or the Trumps or some other visionary (or megalomaniac) will think of sending (or creating) a moon of his (or her) own – may be to use it as the ultimate advertising hording. Imagine a day when there will be lots of full moons up in the sky with logos of Coca-Cola and McDonalds and Wal-Mart and Boeing and Nike and Gillette emblazoned across them…
Oh, have I revealed a business secret here which I should have first patented! Well, let me end this piece by merely noting that I don’t wish to make money by selling ideas. And really, I would hate to see a night sky full of full moons being utilized as advertising hoardings, but I think that is an inevitability that will come to pass someday.
It might appear to be an out of this world kind of idea today, but then, who would have thought that two 110-storey buildings can collapse. Moreover, that someone could destroy those buildings by crashing passenger airplanes into them…Could anyone have forecast that a tsunami can cause a death toll of 2,00,000 human lives … can anyone guarantee that an earthquake measuring 8.1 on the Richter scale is not going to strike Delhi? And what will happen if that happens? How many will die in India’s capital? A million people? Two million? Who knows what the future has in store for us.

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