Can a solar-powered plane fly at night? We’ll know for certain in just a few short hours. Early this morning the 40-horsepower Solar Impulse aircraft embarked upon its first 24-hour trip. Just before dark, pilot André Borschberg will decide whether or not to continue the flight, drawing power from lithium batteries that store a charge from the 11,000-plus solar cells on the craft.

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The 24-hour flight is one of a building series of trial runs for Solar Impulse as its team gears up for an around-the-world flight in 2010. While the one-man plane is a long way off from commercial use, its purpose, expressed bluntly by the team leader Bertrand Piccard (of balloon fame), is “to prove that renewable energies are not just pornography for tree huggers.”

Speaking of pornography, you can follow the flight in real time on this website.

+ Solar Impulse

Via Wired