What is a Dyson Sphere? Should we Build it?
The idea of Dyson spheres has captured our imaginations. Vast megastructures, capable of harvesting the power the output of entire stars, the as yet inexplicable Kepler Space Telescope observation of swarms of somethings partially eclipsing a distant star has led to some rampant speculation.
Today we ask, are Dyson spheres plausible? And are they inevitable?
In 1960, astrophysicist Freeman Dyson proposed that a sufficiently advanced civilization would have such extreme real estate and energy requirements that they might build artificial habitats in the form of vast shells surrounding their parent star. Such Dyson spheres would be possible targets for our search for extraterrestrial intelligence, appearing only as strange points of infrared lights but otherwise black at visible wavelengths.
We don’t really know how the energy requirements of advanced civilizations evolve. It may be that their most natural progression does not require cosmic levels of consumption. On the other hand, securing access to an entire star’s energy output officially elevates a civilization to type 2 on the Kardashev scale. We’re currently type 0. So obviously it would be nice to unlock the achievement.
Let’s assume that access to 10 to the power of 26 watts is desirable. Are Dyson spheres the way to go? The plausibility of a solid sphere the size of a planetary orbit is not really in question. They are not plausible. The incredible stresses on a solar structure that size is vastly greater than could be sustained by any known or yet imagined material. Even if a super advanced material with enough strength was discovered, you’d need impossibly large quantities, much more than there is non-hydrogen or helium matter in all of the planets in the solar system. The sphere would not be habitable, having only a tiny gravitational pull at its surface, and that would be towards the sun. And finally, it would be hopelessly unstable. Any small bump would cause one side to fall into the sun. Some of these issues could be dealt with. But in the end, it’s just not an efficient way to start your galactic empire.
So do we ditch Dyson’s original idea in our quest to reach type 2? Not so fast. It’s not feasible to build a giant solar sphere. But collecting the entire output of our home star may still be the smart choice. In fact, we can get around all of the issues I just described with a simple adjustment. Instead of building a Dyson sphere, build a Dyson swarm, individual solar collectors that are only kilometers or less in diameter and each with its own independent stable orbit around the sun. Build enough of these, and you can read the entire sun in all directions, absorbing its entire energy output.
The crazy thing about the Dyson swarm is that we could probably start building one in the not too distant future. In fact, we could get started on the first collector pretty much right away. The thing that makes it seem a crazy prospect is a sheer scope. We’d have to disassemble entire planets for the raw materials alone. But believe it or not, there is a plan. It was proposed by Stuart Armstrong, AI expert and futurist. The idea is to cannibalize the planet Mercury. And that’s just to begin the swarm.
Mercury is ideal because it has a gigantic solid iron core, comprising over 40% of the planet’s mass. Combine that with the abundant oxygen in its crust, and we can make hematite, a naturally occurring, highly reflective iron oxide that has been used for millennia as primitive mirrors. So each of the swarms collectors would then be a giant polished hematite mirror, perhaps a kilometer across, but as thin as tinfoil. It would reflect light into a small solar power plant that would then beam energy somewhere useful, perhaps with a laser or a maser.
The other nice thing about Mercury is that its gravity is low enough that launching mined raw material into space for construction is pretty efficient. Building the first collector would be the slowest. We start with limited mining, space launch, and orbital construction facilities, all of it autonomous.
Energy supply is the big limiting factor at the start, so it takes about 10 years to build the first collector. But once it’s complete, we have orders of magnitude more available power. We use it to power replicator robots, building new mining and manufacturing facilities, as well as replaceable replicators. It’s an exponential process. Every new collector increases the energy available to build more collectors. Within 70 years, we have a partial Dyson swarm, and Mercury is nothing more than a debris field. To fully encompass the sun, we’d probably need to devour Venus, Mars, and a good number of asteroids and outer solar system moons, too, assuming we want to leave Earth intact. Let’s assume that. Sound over the top? It’s totally nuts. But it’s likely doable.
Autonomy in manufacturing, mining, and transportation are all progressing exponentially. Engineers are in the serious planning phases for all sorts of space-based assembly projects, including 3D printing of giant telescope mirrors. Real companies are gearing up to do autonomous asteroid mining, perhaps within a couple of decades. And all of this is without considering nanorobotics, which could change the game entirely. Frankly, there’s no obvious deal breaker here. Once complete, the Dyson swarm would harvest a good fraction of the sun’s energy, so trillions of times the current energy output of the planet. What we then do with that energy is another matter.
But is the Dyson swarm really the best path to type 2 status? Would other civilizations have gone that route, casting very conspicuous shadows on their home stars for us to detect? The advantage of using sunlight is that the sun is already making it. However, in terms of power efficiency, it’s not all that great. Only 0.7% of the rest mass of the ongoing hydrogen fuel at the sun’s core is converted to energy. Also, we need a megastructure to harvest it, with a raw material requirement close to that of all the terrestrial planets in the solar system. Is there a better way? Maybe.
What if instead of converting 0.7% of fuel rest mass into energy we could achieve 100% efficiency? Anti-matter engines do this. But currently, it takes more energy to create the anti-matter fuel than we get back out. Perhaps we can do better there, but there are also other options, for example, black hole engines. Energy can be harvested from a black hole, either from the Hawking radiation, from heat generated from an infalling material, or by extracting angular momentum from the black hole’s spin. We talked about one example, the Kugelblitz. Tapping the Hawking radiation from an artificial black hole is appealing because once formed, we could perhaps sustain it from evaporation by feeding it with new matter. This is really 100% efficient conversion of mass into energy, assuming we can find a way to pump new matter into the proton-sized Kugelblitz against the tide of Hawking radiation. And we only need 1 billion Kugelblitzes to equal the sun’s output. That’s nothing, compared to the hundreds of quadrillion solar collectors in a full Dyson swarm.
Added benefits. We get to keep Venus and Mars. And also Kugelblitz and other 100% efficient mass converters are indefinitely scalable. The Dyson sphere/swarm can absorb at most the entire energy output of the sun. However, there’s enough mass in the solar system to run a type 3 civilization’s Kugelblitz swarm for many times the current age of the universe. Of course, the trick is making the black holes in the first place. To make an industry standard, 600 million kilogram Kugelblitz, it takes something like 10% of the sun’s energy output each second, focused into a single attometer at a single instant. But wait. That’s the power we get from even a partial Dyson swarm. So there’s something to do with the swarm’s energy.
Burn through Mercury. Then use that partial Dyson swarm’s energy to build Kugelblitzes, in orbit, say, around Jupiter. Type 3, here we come. Maybe this is why we don’t see Dyson swarms all through the galaxy. Aliens build partial swarms to provide the energy to build more efficient engines, which would be essentially undetectable. Or they try building their first Kugelblitz, and it goes very, very badly. Either way, Fermi paradox solved. Admittedly, the fading that the Kepler Space Telescope observed in Tabby’s star is sort of consistent with a partial swarm. I guess it couldn’t hurt to point some radio telescopes, to look for power leakage from the Kugelblitz swarm. But no. It’s never aliens unless every other explanation is exhausted.
Source: Space Time
The Most Mysterious Star in the Universe – KIC
Mysterious Star (KIC)
- Type one is to build a ring of orbiting structures around the star that collect light and wirelessly transfer the energy back to the home planet.
- Type two is to build a bubble of satellites around the star that absorbs a good percentage of the light, but not all of it.
- Type three is to completely swallow the star with a solid shell of matter that absorbs 100% of the energy and light that the star produces. If a sphere like this was built around the Sun with a radius of one au, the spheres surface area would be 550 million times the surface area of Earth, and it would produce a ridiculous 384.6 Yottawatts of energy, about 33 trillion times the entire energy consumption of all of humanity in 1998
Also Read: What is a Dyson Sphere? Should we Build it?
The Most Hazardous Substances On Earth
What are the Hazardous Substances on Earth?
Here are 10 of them
Can you imagine settling down to watch a movie with a bag of nachos and some cheese sauce, only for that particular snack decision to prove to be the worst choice you ever made of your soon-to-be-over life? That happened in May this year when a Californian man ate some cheese sauce that was infected with the (botch-i-Linum) botulinum toxin. He later died, but not before suffering a few weeks of pain and confusion.
The toxin, which is secreted by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, can appear in canned foods, and once you are struck by botulism the outlook isn’t good. This is just one of the deadly toxins that can strike us down in the prime of our lives. Today we are going to focus on the deadly toxins that inhabit the Earth, in this episode of the Infographics show, Top 10 Deadliest Substances.
Number 10: Lead
Lead is certainly not the worst thing out there, but lead poisoning is quite common. Researchers believe it’s how Beethoven died, and the World Health Organization said in 2015 that lead paint alone causes almost 500,000 deaths a year. If exposed to lead paint, say on a toy, at low levels children can suffer permanent brain damage.
At high levels, the lead can attack the central nervous system leading to coma and death. This year an infant died in Connecticut after wearing, and reportedly chewing on, a handmade bracelet bought at an artisan fair. The beads on the bracelet contained high levels of lead.
Number 9: Tetrodotoxin
Tetrodotoxin Death by dangerous dinner is a fact in Japan, and people sometimes die after eating a pufferfish known as the fugu. The fish, which is only prepared by licensed chefs, contains the neurotoxin tetrodotoxin. If ingested by humans it can cause respiratory failure, paralysis, and death. While the toxic parts of the fish should be removed, mishaps do happen. The Tokyo Bureau of Social Welfare and Public Health has stated that over a period of time, it had a 6.8 percent fatality rate of those that ingested it. There is no known antidote, so you either wait until the toxins leave the body or wait for death. The Guardian reports that “between 2006 and 2015, ten people died after eating the fish”, but most of those folks tried to prepare the meals themselves. In other Asian countries, people have died when the fish was passed off as something else. 15 people died in Thailand and scores more were hospitalized when vendors were selling the fish disguised as salmon around 2007.
Number 8: Arsenic
This popular poison won’t kill you in small amounts. Indeed, it was reported in 2017 than 2 million people in the USA were exposed to high levels of arsenic from drawing water from wells. Back in the Victorian era, women poisoned themselves by rubbing a mixture on their faces that contained arsenic, all in the name of beauty and the desire to have a pale complexion. Arsenic poisoning leads to cancer in developing countries as we speak, but a small dose of this harmless looking powder in your drink will kill you. That’s why it was a favorite with murderers in 19th century England. Vomiting and diarrhea will occur, and if you’ve consumed enough of it, you’ve usually got between two hours and two days before it’s game over.
Number 7: Strychnine
Strychnine is another substance found in many things we might consume. It’s mainly found in the strychnos nux-vomica tree, and from there it might make its way into a one gram bag of cocaine, pesticides, or even contaminated food and water. If you’ve been poisoned, you’ll know within 15 to 60 minutes. According to the CDC, you’ll become anxious, feel muscle pain, have spasms, and at high doses, suffer respiratory failure and brain death. If you can get past 12 hours, you should survive. The BBC reported in 2016, a man was found dead in the middle of the English Moors after ingesting it.
Number 6: Cyanide
Cyanide Scientists say that cyanide and strychnine are fairly similar in terms of toxicity, but cyanide certainly has the worse reputation. This chemical compound can be found in plants, bacteria, fungi as well as the seeds of some fruits. Death-by-apple-seed, however, would only occur if you ate at least 150 crushed apple seeds and chewed them all well. If you did manage to do that, you could suffer seizures, apnea, cardiac arrest, and death within seconds. In 2012, a U.S. man, a former millionaire Wall Street banker, died in about 37 seconds after swallowing a cyanide pill in court. It was short, but looked rather unpleasant.
Number 5: Sarin
Sarin is a nerve gas that was developed in Germany as a pesticide. It later became a chemical weapon and was developed by the Soviet Union and the U.S. military. It has killed thousands of people as a military weapon and was the cause of 12 deaths in the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin attack. 26 times more deadly than cyanide, if ingested, your eyes will first water, you’ll throw up, pee, poop, and then have seizures. Within ten minutes, you will be dead.
Number 4: Ricin
Ricin This deadly protein, extracted from the innocent sounding castor bean, once found its way to President Barack Obama’s mail. One of the problems, for most of us at least, is that the toxin can be extracted from the pulp without much difficulty. You just need to follow some fairly simple instructions thanks to our modern Oracle, Google. If inhaled or ingested at an amount half the size of a grain of sand, it is goodnight Vienna. The good news is, it’s unlikely you’ll be poisoned if someone isn’t planning to kill you as it’s not something you just come across – unless you worked in the U.S. the military in the 1940s. If ingested, the effects will appear after about 10 hours. You’ll experience vomiting and diarrhea, seizures, and death will likely happen when your liver, spleen, and kidneys stop working.
Number 3: Mercury
Mercury occurs naturally in air, water, and soil, but it gets very dangerous when it builds up in fish and becomes methylmercury. That’s how humans are usually affected. It’s also found in metals and so it can get into us that way. It’s high on the list because a very small amount of mercury can be deadly. If it isn’t, it’s been known to lead to children’s hair and teeth just falling out like in a bad dream. It kills, too, as a British scientist’s family discovered in 1996. She had taken all the correct safety precautions when working with the substance, but after spilling two small drops on her gloves she was doomed. She didn’t think much of it, having worn the protective gloves, but within weeks she suffered neurological impairment. She then went into a coma and died. While the woman was thrashing about prior to her coma, her friend asked a doctor if she was in pain. The doctor told her that her brain wouldn’t even register pain.
Number 2: Batrachotoxin
Batrachotoxin The strongest form of this toxin is carried by the golden poison frog, known as the most poisonous animal on the planet. Also known as the golden dart frog, it carries about one milligram of poison, enough to kill ten to twenty humans. This would mean the tiny, friendly looking frog could take out an elephant. It’s called the dart frog because residents of Colombia’s rainforests would soak the end of their darts in its poison for hunting, or protecting themselves. Like in the movies, a human, if hit, would likely drop like a knocked out boxer. A lethal dose is 0.00012 grams. There isn’t much evidence as to the effect on humans, but when natives were asked about the killer darts, they told western scientists that paralysis is so immediate, birds would just fall from the sky when hit.
Number 1: Botulinum toxin
Botulinum toxin This nasty toxin’s claim to fame is that it is used to make older looking people look younger when used in what we know as Botox. The toxin, 40 million times stronger than cyanide, can kill a human at only 80 nanograms – 2-billionths of a gram. Your face will first paralyze, then your limbs, and then your breathing organs.
Unfortunately, as we heard at the beginning of this article, it can appear in cans of food. Although botulism outbreaks are very rare, the cheese sauce fan from California was joined by another northern Californian a few months later. This time the cheese sauce killed a woman, who had initially been released from the hospital after recovering. It’s odorless and colorless, so you’ll only know you are a victim when strange things start to happen to you. When your face starts paralyzing and you can’t speak, drive as fast as you can to a hospital.
Which of these substances seems like the worst to you?
Let us know in the comments!
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