What would it really take for us to create a Dyson sphere?

There are many different alien technologies depicted in books, movies, television, and comics. None have quite caught the attention of science nerds as a completely theoretical contraption known as the Dyson Sphere. There are a few different versions of this technology, so we are going to take a look at several of them, what they are, how they could be built, and analyze whether humans are capable of building such structures. First of all … how advanced should an alien civilization be before we can expect such a complex structure?

The Kardashev scale:

It is estimated that the universe has existed for almost 14 billion years. It would be extremely naive to postulate that among the hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe, the Milky Way is the only galaxy that qualifies for intelligent life. Of course, we have yet to find any evidence that there is life – even in its most basic and primordial form – beyond our solar system, but of course our technology for detecting life beyond. beyond Earth is still in its infancy.

Almost 50 years ago, a Soviet astronomer by the name of Nikolai Kardashev developed a scale – known as the Kardashev scale – which describes the possible types of intelligent life in the universe on a scale from I to III, depending on how much energy civilization could consume. Energy needs and technological prowess are intrinsically linked, according to the Kardashev scale. To quickly summarize each level:

Type 0 civilizations are described as planets (or moons) that derive their energy from organic sources, which on Earth are substances such as crude oil, wood and coal. Due to constraints in the production and use of fuel, most of these planets – like Earth – have yet to find a feasible and safe way to explore other, more distant worlds.

type I civilizations are described as extraterrestrial societies capable of harnessing all the energy of their home planets and using that energy to meet the high energy needs of their civilizations. Earth has yet to become a Type I civilization, and it is estimated that humanity would need to increase its energy threshold to more than “ 100,000 times the current level before qualifying.

type II civilizations are obviously even more advanced. This is where a civilization that could build a Dyson sphere would fall to Kardashev’s scale. These civilizations have found ways to harness the full power of a star, converting and storing all of the energy emitted by the host star to meet the needs of society as a whole. He estimated that it might take another 3,200 years before we have technology capable of catapulting Earth into a Type II civilization.

Type III civilizations are the most advanced type of society described by the Kardashev scale – and we are far, far from being able to achieve this level of energy independence. Such alien civilizations should be able to harness the power of entire galaxies, but that comes with its own set of constraints. Namely, the speed of light always applies, so these intelligent civilizations would have to develop some type of physics-defying warp engine in order to travel the distance between stars to gather their energy.

What exactly is a Dyson sphere?

Ancient and advanced civilizations would likely need an extreme amount of energy to power all of their various technologies. For this reason, science fiction writers (for example, in a book named “Star Maker” by Olaf Stapledon) were the first to devise a way to suck as much of a star’s energy output as possible. Named after Freeman J. Dyson – the very first theoretical physicist to propose such a structure could exist in an article published in the 1960s – the Dyson sphere has become one of the most popular examples of an alien megastructure.

Artistic rendering of a Dyson sphere Source: Sensitive development

So, what is a Dyson sphere? Well, in layman’s terms, it’s a huge man-made structure made up mostly of solar panels and mirrors orbiting an entire star. It is intended to capture as much energy from its star as possible.

Currently, only a small percentage of a star’s energy reaches a planet’s surface, so a Dyson sphere would theoretically allow civilization to muster a much larger amount of energy for an alien civilization. (The Sun emits about 400 sevenillion watts per second, which is about a thousand billion times our current global energy consumption).

It has also given astronomers a new way to look for signs of intelligent life. When his article was first published, astronomers scoured the skies for any signs of an intelligent species using the first radio telescopes. Dyson rightly pointed out that we would only find these signals if an alien intelligence wanted to be found. Instead, he proposed that we look for inexplicable “heat waste”, which we could detect using tools that scan the universe in infrared wavelengths.

“Such a dark object would radiate as abundantly as the star which is hidden inside, but the radiation would be in the far infrared, around 10 microns in wavelength … I propose then that a search for Point sources of infrared radiation either attempted, independently, or in conjunction with the search for man-made radio transmissions A scan of the entire sky for objects down to the 5th or 6th magnitude would be desirable. . ” Dyson wrote in his paper.

Dyson Swarm:

Since the construction of a Dyson sphere is currently well outside of our technical expertise, a variant of the Dyson sphere – known as the Dyson Swarm – has been proposed. Think of a Dyson swarm as a series of small robotic solar collectors, mirrors, living habitats and satellites, orbiting like a net around a star. it would be orbit a star close enough to collect an immense amount of energy, but without actually enclosing the star itself.

Energy would be transferred wirelessly between individual components and the Earth.

Dyson Swarm
A render of a simple configuration of multiple Dyson rings, or solar panels, forming a more complex Dyson swarm Source: Vedexent / WikimediaCommons

This hypothetical technology has certain advantages and disadvantages. Namely, it would be extremely difficult to put them all into a separate orbit that wouldn’t see them collide (which could have a huge effect on surviving probes, just as space debris is a big deal for satellites in orbit. low terrestrial) or eclipse and decrease the amount of energy they absorb.

Dyson bubble:

The Dyson Bubble is sort of the bastard child of Dyson Spheres and Dyson Swarms. They are essentially similar to the Dyson Swarms in that they are made up of small robotic solar panels, suspended using huge light sails, but different in that they orbit their star from the area of ​​the golden locks – aka: the point at whichthe solar pressure of the solar wind and radiation is exactly equal to the gravitational force of the sun on the satellite “- which basically means that these objects are completely stationary and are not likely to collide with each other and cause damage to surrounding probes.

Dyson bubble
Dyson Bubble Render Source: WikimediaCommons

The downside is that the area covered by the probes must be extremely large. In fact, it is estimated to be about several factors greater than the distance between Earth and the Moon. For the scale, the moon is approximately 225,623 miles (363,104 kilometers) from Earth to its closest point. If you have placed the states at about 2.5 million miles from the sun, their total area should then be about 28 trillion square miles (72 trillion km2). Naturally, it would take a lot of resources to build just one, not to mention the hundreds needed.

Shell Dyson:

Perhaps the most well-known version of the Dyson sphere, but distinct in its own right, is what is called a Dyson Shell. Although popular, Dyson himself considered the Dyson bubble to be the least plausible of the so-called Dyson technologies.

A Dyson shell is essentially a giant all-encompassing shell, which completely surrounds the star, at a distance of about Earth’s orbit, with orbiting panels that would be linked together to create a shell. The structure would steal every bit of energy that the star generates to be used for the betterment of civilization. Civilization could then live on the inner surface of the sphere. Dyson wrote that “a hull of this thickness could be made comfortably habitable and could contain all the machinery necessary to harness the solar radiation falling to it from within.”

Not only would a Dyson shell block out 99.99% of visible light, it would take an extraordinary amount of stellar material to just build it – perhaps more material than in the entire solar system.

Also, it wouldn’t take much to disrupt the orbit of the structure. A comet or asteroid hitting one part could spiral inward and crash into the star. The forces of its own gravity could also be catastrophic, and if you wanted to generate some type of artificial gravity, it is estimated that the object would have to rotate at 0.4 the speed of light, or about 2,684 miles. (1,200 km) per second.

Cost vs benefit:

Kardachev
Source: Dark Attsios / Wikimedia Commons

There is currently no precise estimate of how much it would cost to build a Dyson Sphere, Ring, Swarm, or Shell, but suffice it to say that it wouldn’t be cheap. In fact, it would be one of the most important and expensive inventions of all time and there is still no guarantee that any of these technologies will not fail in a matter of weeks. Looks like we still have a ways to go before we transition to a Kardashev-scale Type I civilization.

I wonder if we’ve found one yet? Check This article!

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