Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

And Moscow Said Let There Be Light, From Space

MOSCOW - A Russian "space mirror" sent a thin shaft of reflected sunlight across nighttime Europe on Thursday and observers said they saw the beam playing across the skies of southern France.


"It looked like two luminous diamonds following one another across the sky, coming from the south and heading northwest", Claude Pechard said in the city of Toulouse.


"It looked like it was moving faster than the speed which planes fly at when at high altitudes", he added.


The beam of light, the manifestation of the first step in a project that could ultimately provide extra daylight for northern cities in long polar winters, was reflected to Earth by a 20-meter-wide plastic mirror mounted on a Progress space ship.


The mirror unfolded like an umbrella from the unmanned cargo ship at 8: 22 A. M. Moscow time shortly after being realeased from the Mir orbital space station occupied by two Russian cosmonauts.


Viktor Blagov, deputy flight director at Moscow's ground control station, said that the cosmonauts aboard Mir saw a patch of light moving across the Earth's surface.


"It was a success", Blagov said. "The cosmonauts detected the spot of light moving across Europe, filmed it and transmitted to ground control", he said. "The weather was good in the south of France and there was a good chance it was seen there", he said.


Dozens of witnesses rang a radio station in Toulouse saying that they had seen the beam in the sky.


But there were no reports of it achieving its aim of creating a momentary hazy twilight on the ground.


"Out of curiosity I checked and saw that they were not at all lighting up the ground", said one eyewitness, Joelle Mathurin.


"I was outside my house on purpose and it was exactly on time. It was very impressive: two bright spots, close together, passing through the sky coming from the Pyrenees and heading northwards", she said.


But she added, "They would really have to pass over much lower if they wanted to light up cities of the future". The mirror was positioned to send a swathe of light up to 10 kilometers wide across the cities of Lyon, Geneva, Berne, Stuttgart, Munich, Prague, Lodz, Brest and Gomel in Belarus.


In central and eastern Europe the sky was covered with cloud and there were no early reports of sightings. But observers at a weather station on Germany's highest mountain, the Zugspitze, saw a shaft of light from the Russian space mirror at 6: 20 A. M. local time.


''It was very bright and passed very quickly", one weatherman said.


Several people called Munich's observatory in the morning to say they had observed a bright light in the sky.