A Dyson sphere constructed by an advanced alien civilization is a staple ingredient of space science fiction: Star Wars, Star Trek, you name it. We humans could do with a Dyson sphere too. Just imaging… collecting 1036 W of the Sun’s energy instead of 1017 W the Earth receives now! Wouldn’t that be wonderful? But wait, are you at a loss as to what we are talking about?
OK, let’s start at the beginning…
Dyson sphere is an idea, a mental experiment, named after a great American-British physicist Freeman Dyson. Strictly speaking, Freeman Dyson was not the first to come up with the concept. It was inspired by Olaf Stapledon’s 1937 science fiction novel “Star Maker” (you can download the book in pdf format here).
Dyson himself referred to the construction as “an artificial biosphere”. He disapproved of the widely used name “Dyson sphere” (thanks for that, SETI enthusiasts) and thought that “Stapledon’s sphere” would have been more appropriate.
A Dyson sphere (depending on the realization it also goes by the name of Dyson Bubble, Dyson Swarm, Dyson Ring etc) is a circumstellar megastructure designed to capture ALL the energy from a star. (Did we already mention that humans could do with one?) In his well-known 1960 report titled Search for Artificial Stellar Sources of Infrared Radiation, Freeman Dyson pointed out that as civilization develops, its energy consumption increases. At some point an advanced civilization might require more energy than their planet receives from its star. In that case they can build a structure around the star to effectively collect all of its energy. But it is not just the energy we are talking about, but also… living space for the growing population. In principle, the vast inner surface of a Dyson structure can be made comfortably habitable.
Many people imagine a Dyson Sphere as a solid hollow ball around a star. Well, that is wrong! If you want to build a Dyson Sphere, make it out of separate elements, such as solar panels, mirrors or similar, that either orbit your star or hover above its surface. (And if you are making a SOLID Dyson shell, please STOP. They are unstable and will not last long!)
Are Dyson Spheres real?
The question we bet you are asking yourself right now is: ARE THERE ANY DYSON SPHERES OUT THERE IN SPACE RIGHT NOW? And, if so, how do we find them?
Well… we most certainly hope that Dyson Spheres exist. Moreover, we are looking for them right now (in fact, it is not as difficult as you think). Freeman Dyson himself wrote in 1960 that these colossal megastructures, if they exist, inevitably leave “footprints”, a waste heat, that we can detect from Earth. So…
Unfortunately, not yet. The Dyson Sphere concept was in the spotlight quite recently, between 2016 and 2019, after an astronomer named Tabetha Boyajian reported the discovery of a flickering star KIC 8462852. Some astronomers thought that the star’s unusual behaviour looked very much like a dimming of a star being eclipsed by a swarm of alien-made objects. Unfortunately, this particular detection turned out to be a false alarm. But astronomers do not give up!
Can we build a Dyson Sphere around the Sun?
This is NOT IMPOSSIBLE. But, let’s admit it, we don’t have the technology to undertake such a project just yet.
To construct a Solar Dyson Sphere, we would need a lot of material. A LOT! So much, that the Earth’s resources would simply not be enough. We would have to mine or even break apart another planet, probably Mercury or Venus, and use their material to make individual elements for our megastructure. Then we will need to launch these elements into orbit around the Sun. But…
While we are waiting for somebody to figure out how to take a planet apart, we invite you to visit our immersive Space Dome and learn more about search for life in the Universe 👽, exoplanets and human space exploration! For Booking details, Feedback from our visitors and information about the shows we offer, go to https://wonderdome.co.uk/
Search for Artificial Stellar Sources of Infrared Radiation report by F. Dyson (1960)