The Time Russian Scientists ( Briefly) Turned Night into Day

Tuesday October 22, 2019 Written by James

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In February 1992, people across Eastern Europe noticed a weird flash in the night sky. Then it was gone. It wasn’t a UFO, or an asteroid. It was something far more banal: a mirror.

As it happens, Russian scientists had just launched a giant space mirror into space. It reflected the sun’s light back to Earth and, for a few seconds, turned night into day. No big deal.

If this sounds like the work of a James Bond supervillain, you’d be right. But it’s also Russian history. The man responsible is engineering genius Vladimir Syromyatnikov, who coincidentally designed the docking system on the International Space Station (over 200 docking operations, and it’s never failed once).

According to Vice, the story goes like this: the Russian government wanted a way to increase worker productivity, particularly in mid-winter when the sun tends to set around breakfast time. Syromyatnikov’s solution was ingeniously mundane: an 88-pound origami mirror named Znamya-2, which would unfold like a rose petal, reflecting continuous sunlight around the clock. Very good for meeting harvest quotas. 

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Spoiler alert: Znamya-2 did not provide Russia with cheap, everlasting sunlight. All Syromyatnikov could generate was a weak sunbeam, which zoomed across Europe at eight kilometres per second, then winked out. Still, the theory was more or less sound.

Znamya-2 eventually de-orbited and burned up somewhere over Canada (presumably at the hands of 007).