For most of us in the world, sunlight comes as a standard in our everyday lives. It’s our natural regulator of time, giver of energy, and simply brightens up our day. While daylight may seem standard to most people, there are places on earth that don’t get sunlight for normal 8-12-hour days or even year-round.
The town of Tromsø, Norway
The town of Tromsø, Norway, sits 200 miles north of the arctic circle, and from November to January each year, the sun doesn’t rise. This town goes through this cyclical loss of sun simply because of how far north it is—but if you travel further south to the Norwegian town of Rjukan, you’ll meet a peculiar case study of a town that lives without light.
Rjukan sits in a deep-cut valley between two imposing mountains. Rjukan suffers six months of the year without light, three more than the much more northern town of Tromso. This isn’t because the sun doesn’t make it over the horizon in this area, it’s because Rjukan spends its life in the shadow of the surrounding mountains.
For most of the town’s history, Rjukan has existed in these depressing shadows, until giant mirrors were installed to light up the town square.
Locals call these mirrors the Solspeilet or sun mirror, and they’re an array of three computer-controlled giant mirrors that track the sun and keep bright light pointed at the city center. The mirrors are located 1,476 feet above the town and readjust every 10 seconds as the sun moves across the surrounding sky, masqued by the mountains to the locals on the ground.
Installing the mirrors
The mirrors were installed in 2013 and have drawn hoards of tourists ever since. They were the idea of Martin Andersen, an artist who moved to the town and couldn’t stand the lack of sun. He convinced local authorities to build the mirror array at the cost of about $800,000 – and it changed the town forever.
While Andersen is credited with bringing the project to life in 2013, the idea was actually that of Rjukan’s most famous residents: Engineer Sam Eyde. Over a century ago, the famed industrialist had the idea to place giant mirrors on the mountaintop to bring happiness to the town’s residents, mostly his employees at the time, but the technology just wasn’t there yet. Instead, he orchestrated the construction of a cable car in 1928 so that locals could travel to see the sunlight.
With Eyde’s idea was finally implemented in 2013, local residents can now spend time in the sunlight at their choosing.
The impact of the mirrors
The mirrors have a total surface area of just 538 square feet, about the size of a studio apartment, but that size lights up about a 2,150 square foot area in the city center. While it may not be the whole town, this expensive mirror array brings some semblance of normalcy to residents for half the year while the sun doesn’t shine.
Many in the town initially fought this expenditure as a waste of money, but it has slowly helped mark Rjukan on maps across the world. The town now stands as a prominent tourist attraction in Norway, drawing visitors wanting to see the mirror-lit city center from across the world.
So, due to some unfortunate geography and through some creative engineering, the town of Rjukan gets its sunlight through giant computer-controlled mirrors on a mountain – even if it is just the city square.