Sun mirrors lighten winter gloom in deep Norwegian valley

Wed Oct 30, 2013 3:08pm EDT
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By Environment Correspondent Alister Doyle

RJUKAN, Norway (Reuters) - Sunshine lit up a Norwegian town in a remote, dark valley for the first time in wintertime on Wednesday, as mirrors high on a mountainside realized a century-old dream.

About 1,000 people, including children wearing sunglasses and with yellow suns painted on their faces, cheered when the sun broke through clouds to illuminate the main square in Rjukan, until now in shadow from early October to mid-March.

"It's a crazy idea - but a bit of madness is fun," said Oystein Haugan, who led the 5 million crown ($849,300) project to set up the three mirrors with a combined surface area of 51 sq meters (550 sq ft) that will track the sun by computer.

"We hope this will bring joy to people here," he said of the 3,500 inhabitants of the industrial town about 175 kms (110 miles) west of Oslo.

A band played the 1960s hit "Let the Sunshine In", several women lounged on sunbeds drinking cocktails - fully dressed against temperatures of 7 degrees Celsius (45 Fahrenheit) - and a volleyball court was set up on a pile of sand.

The reflected sunlight, covering 600 sq meters (6,500 sq ft), is meant to create a meeting place for sun-starved locals and a draw for tourists. Organizers reckon the reflected light will be about 80 percent as bright as the real sun.

The sun shines here in the summertime, when it's higher in the sky, but sets on October 4 behind the mountain and does not return until March 12.

Similar mirrors were first set up in 2006 in the Italian village of Viganella in the Alps, which is also hemmed in a dark valley. "It was a great satisfaction and everyone was happy about it," local mayor Pier Franco Midali told Reuters by e-mail.   Continued...

People play volleyball during the official opening of giant sun mirrors (top) erected on the mountainside, in the town of Rjukan October 30, 2013. REUTERS/Terje Bendiksby/NTB Scanpix