The small town of Rjukan has long had to make do without sunlight during the cold Norwegian winters.
But that changed Wednesday, when the town debuted a system of high-tech mirrors to reflect sunlight from neighboring peaks into the valley below.
Rjukan, originally founded 100 years ago as an industrial outpost for the energy company Norsk Hydro, is nestled between several mountains and does not receive direct sunlight from late September to mid-March — nearly six months out of the year.
"Of course, we notice it when the sun is shining," says Karin Ro, who works for the town's tourism office. "We see the sky is blue, and then we see that down in the valley it's darker — it's like on a cloudy day."
Wednesday, residents of Rjukan received their first dose of winter sun down in the valley: A series of reflective panels on a nearby mountainside were put to use for the very first time.
The mirrors are controlled by a computer that directs them to shift along with the sun throughout the day (and to pivot closed during windy weather). They reflect a concentrated beam of light onto the town's central square, creating an elliptical patch of sunlight roughly 600 square meters. When the light appeared, Rjukan residents flocked together.
"People have been sitting there and standing there and taking pictures of each other," Ro tells NPR's Arun Rath. "The town square was totally full. We are not that big of a town, so I think almost all the people in the town were on the town square."
The 3,500 residents cannot all bask in the sun at the same time. Nevertheless, Ro says, the new light supplied by these mirrors feels like more than enough for the town's sun-starved residents.
"It's not very big," she says, "but it is enough when we are sharing."