Solar Beacon atop Campanile allows for safe observation of sunlight

Arya Aliabadi/Staff

Related Posts

Two sunlight-reflecting mirrors recently placed on the highest balcony of the Campanile will allow observers to have a light as bright as the sun beamed at them.

Located on the west and south sides of the Campanile, the Solar Beacon, which has two large mirror panels called heliostats, reflects light given off by the sun into a bright but small spot of light that observers can look at safely.

The project is a collaboration between John Vallerga — an astrophysicist at the Space Sciences Laboratory at UC Berkeley who managed the project — London-based artist Liliane Lijn and volunteer researchers from the SSL, who offered their services to the design and construction of the mirrors.

“It’s an art piece that reflects sunlight with mirrors to any place that can see the Campanile in the Bay Area,” Vallerga said.

The Solar Beacon was placed on the Golden Gate Bridge in May 2012 to celebrate the bridge’s 75th anniversary, but due to the bridge’s policies on permanent installations, the device was taken down late October 2012.

Lijn and Vallerga originally started collaborating on a project that involved reflecting colors by using prisms and refracting solar light, but those plans changed when the Solar Beacon had to be modified for the Golden Gate Bridge due to size constraints. In late 2011, they modified the device to be lightweight, small and able to withstand winds of up to 100 miles per hour without falling off, Vallerga said.

Vallerga said that the Campanile came to mind when they decided to move the Solar Beacon to a new home.

“We consider (the Solar Beacon) a work of artistic merit,” Vallerga said. “We call attention to the Campanile, to the university, but it’s like a piece of art decorating the university.”

Barry Welsh, a research astrophysicist at the SSL who regularly works with Vallerga but was not involved with this particular project, said they hope to put the Solar Beacon on the Eiffel Tower. Likewise, Vallerga said he hopes to bring the Solar Beacon to locations in the Middle East.

“Anyone can put on a light show at night, but how about light shows during the day? That’s a lot harder to do,” Welsh said.

The Solar Beacon is expected to stay on the balcony of the tower through late fall. People can sign up online on the Solar Beacon website to have the Solar Beacon beam light at them for up to five minutes. They can also request for the light to be turned on and turned off for four seconds each during their five-minute appointment.

“When you see this, you will be more aware of sunlight,” Vallerga said. “It’s not man-made, but it’s the brightest light you’ll see during the daytime.”

Contact Lydia Tuan at [email protected].