communications relay login

Seeking New Life Through Dyson Spheres

In the 1960's Freeman Dyson gave us a vision on the evolution of civilization's thirst for energy.

By Silek Thu 23 Apr, 2020 9:14 PM
Many concepts in the science fiction genre require the suspension of disbelief from the audience, replicators, transporters, and positronic neural pathways, while backed up by an explanation that takes us from point A to point B in showing their viability, for the most part, account only for what could possibly exist far in the future with little hypothetical extrapolations as to their eventual reality.

Others however, such as Warp Field Mechanics can be seen as rooted in fields of thought that some of our brightest minds believe may be an eventuality based on what we currently know about the world and universe around us, even as mankind is still taking the first steps in discovering the very questions we need to ask, to bring these creations to life.

Another such vision is one that most of us will be familiar with, is the Dyson Sphere.

Freeman Dyson (1923-2020) was, for most of his career, a physics professor at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton and served as a civilian scientist for the RAF during World War II. He is renown for his work with Richard Feynman in creating ways to determine the behaviour of atoms and radiation, but is probably best known for an idea presented in his 1960 article “Search for Artificial Stellar Sources of Infrared Radiation”. In this article, he proposed what would come to be known as the Dyson Sphere.

While most might think that the concept of the Dyson Sphere might be a construct of the mechanics capturing an energy source, it was originally part of Dyson's contribution to seeking out life among the stars.

In the 1960's the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, (SETI) carried out projects, much as they do today, searching for extraterrestrial life in the form of signals received in the radio wavelengths of light. Based on the earlier science fiction work of Olaf Stapledon, Dyson suggested a new way of carrying this out in a thought experiment involving these spheres.

Dyson explained, 'In human civilisation's history, we have progressed exponentially in our use of technology, and along with that has come an exponential increase in the amounts of energy and matter that we consume. We went from living like our primate cousins, dwelling among forests and grasslands, to developing fire for cooking food and heating our homes, to building cities and then city states and then mega-cities. We’ve harnessed steam and electricity and the energy of nuclear fusion. We’ve taken the earliest of steps of leaving our own planet and exploring the space around our world. While developing to our current age of the internet, smart phones, self-driving cars, and global connectivity through air travel, we’ve also amplified our requirements for resources – for energy and for matter.”

He speculated in his 1960 article that this could possibly be true for any number of civilisations progressing through the stages of development and evolution. He stated that while we might not know the motivations of any particular alien civilisation, it would be necessary to use a solar system and civilisation similar to our own as the parameters of this experiment.

Dyson went on to postulate that as these energy demands grew, the ultimate expression, or at least a point on this progressive path, would be to harness the total amount of energy released by the universe's sole source of it, a star. He postulated that a foreseeable expression of this would be to create a shell that would encompass a civilisation's star, allowing them to collect every available unit of energy for their consumption; this shell has come to be known as the Dyson Sphere.

While the scope and construction might take areas of science that we have not even begun to field, the mechanics of it could be based on the reality of technologies that were already rooted in the reach of even the 1960's, these being the collection, storage and disbursement of solar energies through panels and batteries even in their current infancy of development.

The infrared light from these hypothetical shells, Dyson proposed, should be visible from space allowing us to scan for these specific wavelengths that the spheres would emit. With the technological roadblocks our current technology presents us, Dyson suggested a few ways we might detect these artificial biospheres.

The first would be to suggest that a civilisation may not completely encompass the star and instead it would be surrounded by bands collecting only a percentage of the energy. This would result in narrowing the infrared emissions into a more specific wavelength that could be pinpointed by observation.

The second would be the likelihood that these efforts might produce more fruitful results if this technique were used in a binary star system. If so, we would be able to detect the gravitational wobble more easily, which would suggest the possibility of an unobserved second star and then point us to the infrared emissions.

Thus far, we haven't found any indication of Dyson Spheres existing in space, although in 2015 a star known as Tabby's star, exhibited irregular dimming. While research shows that this could be from dust clouds or debris from destroyed exomoons, this caused excitement among astro-biologists and exploration enthusiasts, as the Dyson Sphere was, and continues to be a consideration among scientists.

What did you think of this article? Let us know!

EDITED BY Infinity
Sat 25 Apr, 2020 4:58 AM
Excellent article Silek!
Sat 25 Apr, 2020 5:58 AM
The technological level a civilisation would need to build (and fully take advantage of) even a Dyson Swarm (basicly billions and billions of satellites surrounding a star to harness solar power) is so advanced (if not pure science-fiction) that said civilisations other scientific fields already eliminated the need to build one in the first place.