For six months of every year, a remote valley village in southern Norway lives in perpetual darkness. But now, thanks to three 183 square foot reflecting mirrors installed atop a 437 yard high mountainside overlooking Rjukan, the village’s 3,500 residents will finally be able to enjoy the winter sun for the first time since the community was founded over 100 years ago.
The mirror project idea is almost as old as Rjukan. In the early 1900s Norwegian industrialist Sam Eyde, who founded Norsk Hydro, not only wanted to take advantage of the enormous waterfall near Rjukan to create chemical fertilizers, he also wanted to deflect sunlight into the village to relieve the long spells of darkness. But at the time, the technology to do this did not exist, so Eyde instead installed a cable car that still takes residents who need a quick vitamin D recharge up to the top of the mountain.
The project was largely forgotten until Parisian artist Martin Andersen picked up the idea while visiting the village 10 years ago. Since then, the Heliostatic system slowly gained traction until funding for the five million kroner (or $849,000) project was raised. On top of making Rjukan brighter, locals expect that the life-altering mirrors will attract tourists; the engineers also hope it will be included in the Unesco World Heritage List by 2015 as an example of human industrial genius.
The mirror system will be fired up for the first time next week. A computer controls the massive mirror to reflect sun rays onto the market square, lighting up a 6,459 square foott elliptical area. Meanwhile, from a distance the mirror array will make it appear as though there is a sun resting on the mountainside. Although some of the residents called it an insane, “Mickey Mouse” project, the village has already proven its engineering might with a number of feats, including a massive hydroelectric plant and a huge pipeline and railway line that transports fertilizer to the rest of the world.
Images © Visit Rjukan