Social media has great advantages, connecting us with both friends and strangers from around the world. Sometimes though, it can lead to major misunderstandings. This is the case for two major science stories from China recently that have got merged into one, purposely or not is unknown. Thus, Twitter users have been sharing enthusiastically what they thought was a video that showed China's “artificial sun” being sent into space.
Firstly, that's not what an "artificial sun" is, and secondly, that's not what this video shows.
An artificial sun is a nuclear fusion reactor. This technology emulates the processes that happen at the center of stars, thus is often nicknamed an “artificial sun”. It's a way of making fusion happen on Earth at temperatures even hotter than our Sun. China's record-breaking nuclear fusion reactor recently smashed its own record for length of time keeping plasma fusion going — a whopping 1,056 seconds.
The second news story, which is shown in the video, is the launch of the Chang Zheng (长征 – "Long March") rocket from Wenchang. The glow of the rocket going up through the clouds certainly has a Sun-like quality (a bit like throwing Olafur Eliasson’s Weather Project up in the air) but it has nothing to do with the “artificial sun”. Actually, the only way for nuclear fusion to work is to keep it hot and confined in a highly magnetic structure. It would dissipate and cool down pretty quickly otherwise.
So, no China did not create a second sun, but it did perform some epic science.