Visitors to the town of Rjukan, Norway are a little crazy. You’ll find them bungee jumping off the local suspension bridge into a narrow 275-feet-deep gorge, or hanging from one of the 192 frozen waterfalls which offer some of the best and scariest ice climbing in Northern Europe.
Rjukan has a rich and colorful history too. The only source of heavy water in German-occupied Norway during the Second World War, the town became a hotspot for the Germans who were looking to build an atomic bomb.
But there’s one thing Rjukan doesn’t have – light.
The little town lies at the bottom of a valley that’s oriented east to west, with the 6,000 foot Gaustatoppen and other mountains to its south blocking out sunlight from September through March.
Now engineers have come up with a novel way to project light down onto the town using huge mirrors. The mirrors are built into a steep mountain wall 1,500 feet above the market square and will be ready for use this September.
The three computer-driven heliostats, as they are referred to, will follow the sun’s movement over the horizon and reflect rays into the town. Each mirror measures 538 square feet and will provide 2,000 square feet of concentrated light to the town below.
The idea for the mirrors originated 100 years ago when industrialist and Rjukan founder Sam Eyde became worried that his workers were not getting enough sunlight in the winter. But at that time the technology required to pull off such a project had not been developed, and so the concept was shelved.
Instead, Eyde built a cable car to transport resident to the top of the mountains where they could be exposed to the sun’s rays. The cable car is still functional today, taking thousands of sun-deprived residents up and out of the valley every winter.
Rjukan’s $1 million dollar Mirror Project is not the first on its kind. In 2006 a small village near Turin, Italy installed a mirror which is still in use today.