What would happen if the Sun Disappeared?
Let’s speculate for a moment. What would happen if our sun suddenly went out? For an hour or for a month or let’s say even for a whole year? What would happen to mankind?
The very last photons from the surface of our star and the last particles that make up the solar wind have started their final flight towards the Earth. No one would yet suspect that the heart of our solar system has stopped functioning. 8 to 9 minutes later and the sky suddenly turns black. Darkness descends upon the entire planet. No matter whether at that moment it’s the deep dark of midnight or a bright sunny noontime at your location, you can quickly and easily see the difference. The stars are now all clearly visible against the sheer black backdrop of the sky. The Moon is not visible at all since there’s no longer any sunlight to reflect. A moment before the onset of the shrouding darkness, bright Northern Lights may appear due to changes in the magnetic field around the Earth and the disturbances in the ionosphere.
The most dreadful consequence of all is the complete and utter cessation of the process of photosynthesis resulting in plants and cyanobacteria no longer producing oxygen. This will soon lead to, how shall we say it, difficulties for every living being. After an hour, true panic reigns over the heretofore day time’s side of the earth. Power and communication outages propagate across the entire planet. Temperatures everywhere drop by several degrees and the Earth surface begins to slowly cool. But from the inside, the planet is still heated by its molten core. In 24 hours, Dawn has not and will not arrive. Panic and chaos will envelop the entire world. State authorities will have almost zero control over the situation. Humankind will try to figure out what the hell happened while coping with massive power and water supply outages. The temperature on the surface falls to between 5° to 7 °C. That’s about 41° to 45 °F and will now decrease by about 15° to 20 °C. That’s a drop of about 30 °F. Some species of plants and microorganisms will begin to die. The inhabitants of the ocean by the time will feel almost no changes.
After 7 days, it’s still dark. The average temperature on earth is now -17 °C. That’s about 1 °F. In areas where there are tectonic faults, it will still be warm. Thanks to geothermal energy not letting the surface freeze over. Most plants will have already died due to cold or lack of light. Herbivorous and heat-loving animals will also begin to die. In the oceans, phytoplankton will begin to die as well. The inhabitants of shallow waters will suffer tremendously from the cold and the surface of the ocean will begin to turn to ice.
By now, scientists and other individuals have realized what has happened and will rush to organize and equip shelters. One month in and the Earth is continuing to cool. The average temperature on the surface is now about -30 °C. That’s -22 °F. And almost the entire planet is now coated with ice. Virtually all plants and cyanobacteria have perished. Some species of trees, especially conifers, are still alive. But with the lack of sunlight, even they are not producing oxygen.
In fact, most of the earth living things have died. But some bacteria still carry on with their normal life activity. Most of the remaining life on earth is now found only near geothermal springs and under water. Interestingly, the layer of ice on the surface of the ocean slows down their cooling. And in the areas of oceanic tectonic faults and geothermal sources, the water is still warm. Obviously being naturally heated.
But even in the ocean, the drama of a mass extinction event begins to unfold. One year in and the surface of the Earth and the oceans are covered with a thick layer of ice. According to professor David Stevenson at CalTech, the temperature on the surface of the earth should drop to about -40 °C and that’s the same in Fahrenheit. Life endures now only deep in the earth oceans, and perhaps some groups of humans might be able to survive on the surface of the planet in places like Iceland and other areas with large amounts of geothermal activity. Professor Stevenson believes that the Earth will continue to cool for another several thousand years. Until the surface temperature reaches approximately -160 °C. That’s about -256 °F. At that point, life on the planet in the usual sense of the word will simply become impossible.
And let’s not forget about the gravity of the Sun. After all, it’s unlikely that the Sun could suddenly go out without losing its gravitational pull. If the Sun ceases to hold the planets and other celestial bodies in their orbit then the planets and asteroids will simply fly away into outer space. Some of them possibly even colliding with one another. The Earth for one will soar out into deep space where it could get bombarded with asteroids, comets, and radiation, collide with another planet or even someday end up in the gravity well of a black hole. There’s also a very small possibility that after wandering through space for a very long time, the Earth would be able to integrate into another stellar system and find a new sun.
In the end, however, it’s important to realize that this scenario is just a fantasy. Or rather a thought experiment of sorts. As for the real future of our star, in a couple of billion years, the sun will swell and turn into a red giant. Our star will swallow Mercury and Venus and Earth and Mars will become heated up to several thousand degrees. In five billion years, the Sun will explode and throw off its outer envelope. Leaving at the center of the Solar System, a gradually cooling stellar core. A white dwarf around which will orbit whatever remains of the Solar System after the explosion. Concerning humankind, its fate remains unknown.
Hopefully, by that time we’ll be able to fly to other planets and star systems. But that is a story for another day.
Hope you liked this fantasy conclusion. If yes, do share it with your friends. And don’t forget to comment your views.
Do you Dream? Why? – Explained
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?
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