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    Norway town sees winter sun for 1st time

    Three giant mirrors were erected on the hills above town to reflect sunshine toward the center of Rjukan, Norway.
    Three giant mirrors were erected on the hills above town to reflect sunshine toward the center of Rjukan, Norway.

    STAVANGER, Norway — Residents of the small Norwegian town of Rjukan have finally seen the light.

    Tucked in between mountains, the town is normally shrouded in shadow for almost six months a year, with residents having to catch a cable car to the top of a nearby precipice to get a fix of midday vitamin D.

    But on Wednesday faint rays from the winter sun reached the town’s market square for the first time, thanks to three 183-square-foot mirrors placed on a mountain.


    Cheering families — some on sun loungers, drinking cocktails, and waving flags — donned shades as the sun crept from behind a cloud to hit the mirrors and reflect down.

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    ‘‘Before when it was a fine day, you would see that the sky was blue and you knew that the sun was shining. But you couldn’t quite see it. It was very frustrating,’’ said Karin Roe, from the local tourist office. ‘‘This feels warm. When there is no time to get to the top of the mountains on weekdays, it will be lovely to come out for an hour and feel this warmth on my face.’’

    Like much of Scandinavia, the town of Rjukan often is freezing throughout the winter, but on Wednesday it was 45 degrees Fahrenheit there.

    The Italian town of Viganella has a similar, but smaller, sun mirror.

    The plan to illuminate Rjukan was cooked up 100 years ago by the Norwegian industrialist Sam Eyde, who built the town to provide workers for a hydroelectric plant he located at the foot of a nearby waterfall.


    The renowned engineer never saw his plan become reality, but his plant and the Telemark town he founded developed a special affection in the Norwegian imagination as the site of the country’s most famous wartime escapade.

    Occupied by the Germans during World War II, the factory was a staging post in Hitler’s quest for the atomic bomb. The story of how 12 Norwegian saboteurs parachuted into the nearby tundra and survived freezing temperatures to destroy the factory’s ‘‘heavy water’’ plant inspired a 1965 film, ‘‘The Heroes of Telemark,’’ and is being turned into a 10-part TV series.

    Helicoptered in and installed 1,500 feet above the town square, the $850,000 computer-controlled mirrors, or heliostats, are more commonly used to create solar power in the Middle East. Here, the solar energy the heliostats capture is used to power their tilting trajectory as they follow the sun’s brief dash across the Norwegian winter sky.

    The idea was revived in 2005 by Martin Andersen, an artist and resident of the town, who helped raise the money. The lion’s share has come from Norsk Hydro — the company founded by Sam Eyde.