Fact Check: Does Video Show China Launching 'Artificial Sun' Into Space?

A new video spreading on social media claims to show China launching an "artificial sun" into the sky. The video comes amid recent reports about the country successfully generating temperatures "five times hotter than the Sun" at its Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) fusion facility.

The Claim

Several videos published on YouTube, Twitter and other platforms in recent days purportedly show the launch of a ball of plasma into the sky. The amateur footage, which is half a minute long, was apparently recorded on a smartphone as a crowd of onlookers observed and filmed the event.

"China Launches $1 Trillion Artificial Sun That Burns 5 Times Hotter Than The Sun!" says the caption under one of the YouTube clips, which has garnered nearly 2,000 views so far as of Monday.

"China just launched their artificial sun, What in the dragon ball z is going on..." commented a Twitter user sharing the video, which received 4,000 likes.

"China debuted a new artificial sun ‼️😳" RapTV tweeted.

While the video has been re-uploaded by several accounts over the past four days across various platforms, the narrative can be traced back to last September, when a similar video was published by the account Proven Facts on YouTube.

"China has reached an unprecedented nuclear achievement, thanks to the "artificial sun" nuclear reactor that it has developed and is used around the world. A video spread showing the moment of launching the so-called artificial sun, amid the astonishment of those present, which turned night into day," the caption says.

The caption includes keywords such as "spacex launch today channel | space x rocket launch today."

The Facts

Both the January 2022 and the September 2021 videos that claim to show a launch of China's "artificial sun" are in fact footage of standard space rocket launches.

A number of existing videos of SpaceX and other nighttime launches depict a similar "fireball" rising into the sky, including the Falcon 9 rocket launched in 2015 and the SiriusXM satellite launch filmed by a reporter in June 2021. (The latter is the likely source of the misleading video published by the Proven Facts account.)

The "artificial sun" footage also features the telltale exhaust trail left by the rocket as it shoots up into the sky. The outline of the huge white cloud of exhaust gases in the January 2022 video appears to match that left by the launch of China's Shiyan-12-01 and Shiyan-12-02 satellites on board a Chang Zheng 7A rocket on December 23, 2021.

China "artificial sun" misinformation
A side-by-side comparison of frames from two videos, one claiming to show the launch of an "artificial sun" (left) and another showing an actual launch of a Chinese satellite. YouTube

The misleading video seems to be a conflation of existing footage and genuine reports from China over the past decade about record-breaking temperatures achieved in its nuclear fusion reactor. The latest of those, dated December 30, 2021, cited a team of researchers claiming to have achieved a plasma temperature of 120 million degrees Fahrenheit (around 70 million degrees Celsius) and holding it for 1,056 seconds.

As the previous report explained, the doughnut-shaped EAST reactor is sometimes referred to as an "artificial sun" because it replicates the fusion processes that occur within stars. It is a large, ground-based structure, not a literal "sunlike" object being propelled into the sky, as suggested by the misinformation.

The Ruling

Fact Check - False

False.

No, China did not launch an "artificial sun" into the sky. Scientists at the Chinese Academy of Science's Hefei Institutes of Physical Science have been able to achieve temperatures higher than the sun's in their nuclear fusion facilities, but that does not involve launching balls of plasma into orbit. Videos claiming to show the fireball being launched into space are in fact sourced from satellite launch footage.

FACT CHECK BY NEWSWEEK

China, Tianzhou, spacecraft
Recent launch footage has been used to spread misleading claims about China's "artificial sun" fusion reactor. Above, a Long March 7Y4 rocket carrying a Tianzhou 3 cargo ship launches from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in China's Hainan province on September 20, 2021. Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images