Do Dyson Spheres actually exist? Well, this is one of the most debated topics among astronomers and scientists. A Dyson Sphere, simply put, is a hypothetical megastructure which encompasses a star completely, thereby capturing a significant portion of the star’s power output. It can be considered as the ultimate solution for energy production and living space.
A Dyson Sphere is often viewed as a thought experiment that attempts to explain the ways in which spacefaring civilization can help in meeting the energy requirements when those available on their home planet fall short.
Building structures encompassing a star can allow a civilization to gain much more energy than otherwise. If you want to have a comprehensive understanding of the Dyson Sphere, let’s begin with understanding how the concept actually originated.
The Original Thought Experiment
The Dyson Sphere concept came into existence as a result of a thought experiment made by Freeman Dyson, a British–American mathematician and physicist. According to him, the rapid expansion of human civilization would increase the demand for energy. A time would come when the energy requirements of the people would be exceeded by the energy emitted by the Sun that reaches the population naturally.
Freeman Dyson (ioerror / CC BY-SA 3.0)
On the basis of this need, he proposed a system designed for intercepting and collecting the maximum amount of the Sun’s energy. The proposal made by Freeman Dyson did not provide information about the construction of the system, rather focused on the energy collection issues only. His paper named “Search for Artificial Stellar Sources of Infra-Red Radiation”, published in 1960 in the ‘Science’ journal, contained the first formalization of the Dyson Sphere concept.
What Does It Look Like?
There are a number of variants of the Dyson Sphere that have been recognized. The variants include “Dyson Swarm”, “Dyson Bubble”, “Dyson Shell”, “Dyson Net”, “Stellar Engine”, and “Bubbleworld”. The different constructs have different features and benefits. Among all the variants, the Dyson Swarm is considered to be the most feasible and realistic variant of the Dyson Sphere. It is, in fact, closest to the original conception of the Dyson Sphere.
A Dyson Swarm consists of multiple independent constructs like space habitats and solar power satellites, that orbit around the star in a dense formation. The basic dynamics of the Dyson Swarm are quite similar to the way in which Earth and the planets revolve around the Sun. However, in the case of the Dyson Swarm, the satellites are much closer. It creates the picture of a swarm of honey bees surrounding and protecting their hives.
Do We Need One?
Why is it important to build alien megastructures? This is one of the common questions posed in response to the Dyson Sphere concept. According to Freeman Dyson, any intelligent alien species who settle on the moons and planets of a solar system would consider building the Dyson Sphere to meet their energy needs. Building the structures would also expand the habitable space available to the aliens, enabling them to live comfortably on the star-facing surfaces.
However, the current trajectory of our human civilization also suggests the need to build a Dyson Sphere as an ideal energy source. With the ever-growing demand for energy, the non-renewable resources like oil and coal available on the surface of the Earth are decreasing at a rapid pace. This will eventually result in nations around the globe looking for some serious alternative that can effectively replace the traditional primary sources of energy.
In such a situation, solar energy proves to be the most stable and long-term solution. So, building a Dyson Sphere around our Sun and harnessing the solar energy can help our human civilization to sustain and meet our increasing energy demands.
Can We Build It?
Cosmic megastructures like Dyson Spheres seem to be possible theoretically. However, in terms of practicality, building the Dyson Sphere is beyond the engineering capability of humanity as of now. The huge number of crafts essential for obtaining, constructing, and maintaining the Dyson Sphere far exceeds the industrial capabilities of the present day.
We may have to rely on automated robots to build a Dyson Sphere (liuzishan / Adobe Stock)
However, the experts like George Dvorsky, the Canadian futurist, have suggested the potential limitations of our current systems may be overcome by using self-replicating robots, and that this may be feasible in the near future. It may initially seem that all investments made towards such a futuristic energy solution are futile, but there may still be a workable roadmap to construct the megastructure and meet our energy demands.
Are They Already Out There?
Some people are doubtful about the very existence of the Dyson Spheres, and whether it actually exists or not is a popular topic of debate. Dyson Spheres , if they exist, would have a specific “technosignature” in the infrared radiation they emit.
Observation of such emissions would therefore be considered as a sign that can be used by astronomers at a distance in order to determine whether intelligent beings exist in the universe or not, as a Dyson Sphere would certainly be an artificial construction. A few researchers have invested time in scanning the night sky’s infrared map, hoping to spot a Dyson Sphere. However, none of them have been successful in spotting any Dyson Spheres yet.
The recent discoveries made by Tabetha Boyajian, an American astronomer, in the year 2015 have excited the research community. Boyajian has explored the possibility of a Dyson Sphere as an explanation for her observations from a bizarre star. She could see a mysterious dimming of light in a star known as KIC 8462852, or Tabby’s Star.
Tabby’s Star (NASA/JPL-Caltech / Public Domain)
This irregular flickering of light is something that has never been seen before by the researchers. The strange light of the star was initially considered as possible evidence of a Dyson Sphere. However, while the idea was later discarded, various other possibilities have emerged in recent times.
What seemed to be just science fiction at first has started to look more and more real. Astronomers, scientists, and researchers are continuously in search of potential signs to prove the existence of Dyson Spheres. Whether the structures only exist in fanciful human imagination, or they are really out there, is still a thing that remains to be proved. If ever the human race succeeds in building a Dyson Sphere, it would be a Herculean effort. But if we did it, a Dyson Sphere would give a ray of hope to humanity for meeting their energy requirements effectively in the future.
Top Image: A hypothetical Dyson Sphere. Source: Rebekah Smith / CC BY-SA 2.0.
By Bipin Dimri