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Dyson Spheres and the Search for Alien Civilizations

Words like ‘aliens’, ‘extraterrestrial life’, and ‘advanced civilizations’ have always sparked our interest. While the search for extraterrestrial intelligent life and unique signals from space have been constant, scientists and astronomers are always looking for different ways to explore our cosmic neighborhood.

Dyson Spheres, considered to be potential alien habitats, could actually help us in searching for the presence of alien civilizations in the Universe!

What Is a Dyson Sphere?

Dyson Spheres (also called as Dyson Swarms or Dyson Shells) are hypothetical megastructures that would completely surround its parent star and capture all of the energy emitted by it.

These artificial spheres could be the size of a planetary orbit and consist of a shell of solar collectors that would receive a large amount of energy from the parent star, and this can then lead to the creation of a huge living space.

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Image-1. An artist’s impression of a potential Dyson Sphere. (Image Credit: NASA)

The concept of Dyson Spheres was popularized by the famous physicist Freeman John Dyson in the year 1960 in his paper titled ‘Search for Artificial Stellar Sources of Infrared Radiation’.

He stated that if extraterrestrial advanced beings existed, they would require huge amounts of energy to power their civilization.

Hence, these extraterrestrial beings could build such Dyson Spheres which would allow them to utilize most or all of the energy radiated by their parent star. After its utilization, this radiation energy from the parent star would then be converted to infrared radiation which is of a lower frequency.

Thus, searching for Dyson Spheres and infrared radiation could help us find advanced extraterrestrial civilizations.

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Image-2. Physicist Freeman Dyson, pictured in 2009. (Image Credit: Nature)

Depending upon the type of civilization and their level of advancement, different types of Dyson Spheres having a specific ability of harvesting energy can be built.

The idea of different types of civilizations was given by the Soviet astronomer Nikolai Kardashev.

According to the Kardashev Scale, three types of civilizations can exist in the Universe based on the amount of energy it can use.

  • The Type I civilizations (Planetary Civilizations) would have learned to use and store all of the energy available on their home planet,
  • Type II civilizations (Stellar Civilizations) could harness all of the energy from the host star in their solar system,
  • While Type III civilizations (Galactic Civilizations) could harness the energy of its entire host galaxy.
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Image-3. The Kardashev Civilizations (Image Credit: Unchained Capital)

Back then, Kardashev was of the view that Type III would be the most technologically advanced civilization. However today, it has been suggested that Type IV and Type V civilizations could also be possible and that these would be extremely advanced as compared to the others.

These intelligent beings would be able to harness the energy of the entire universe and also be able to control it.

Building Dyson Spheres, irrespective of the type of civilizations, would be extremely difficult, however, never impossible.

Scientists say that Dyson Spheres need not always be spherical in shape. These structures can be arranged in patterns like the Dyson Ring, the Dyson Belt, the Dyson Swarm, or even as a Dyson Shell surrounding its parent star depending upon the needs of a particular civilization type.

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Image-4. Different types of Dyson Spheres (Image Credit- Medium)

Popularization of Dyson Spheres and its possibility of being a key towards searching for extraterrestrial civilizations has had the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute make constant efforts to search for these megastructures in the universe.

Even though we have no strong evidence, the irregular dimming of the star KIC 8462852 surely garnered a lot of attention due to its possibility of being surrounded by a Dyson sphere.

The star designated as KIC 8462852 was discovered during NASA’s Kepler Mission whose main goal was to search for Earth-like planets (exoplanets) orbiting other stars.

Over the duration of the Kepler Mission, KIC 8462852 showed irregular and aperiodic dips in the light pattern.

Also called as the Tabby’s star in honor of the astronomer Tabetha Boyajian who was leading the project, it quickly became famous for its unusual dimming.

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Image-5. The star KIC 8462852 (Aka Tabby’s star), which sits in the Cygnus constellation (illustrated). (Image Credit-Science News)]

The Tabby’s star has been labelled as an F-type main sequence star which means that it should be stable in its brightness and that changes in the same would take a long time to occur.

However, the irregular dips in the light curve data led the astronomers to believe that the Tabby’s star might be surrounded by a half complete Dyson Swarm built by an advanced civilization.

Over time, various other reasons were suggested for the unusual dimming pattern of the Tabby’s star. However, its mystery still continues.

Searching for Dyson Spheres around our neighboring stars and studying the stellar spectra can help us find alien civilizations that might be lurking in our universe.

Apart from looking for extraterrestrial intelligence, studying about Dyson Spheres would be advantageous to our human civilization too.

We have not reached the Type I status yet. But considering the speed with which we are becoming technologically advanced, it is possible that we soon become a Type I civilization, and then eventually achieve a Type II status. This will require us to use greater and more powerful sources of energy in order to power our civilization.

Here’s where we can think of building Dyson Spheres as a solution to our ever- increasing need for energy.

References

  • Dyson F. J. (1960). “Search for Artificial Stellar Sources of Infrared Radiation“. Science  (New York, N.Y.), 131 (3414), 1667–1668.
  • T. S. Boyajian, D. M. LaCourse, S. A. Rappaport, D. Fabrycky, D. A. Fischer, D. Gandolfi, G. M. Kennedy, H. Korhonen, M. C. Liu, A. Moor, K. Olah, K. Vida, M. C. Wyatt, W. M. J. Best, J. Brewer, F. Ciesla, B. Csák, H. J. Deeg, T. J. Dupuy, G. Handler, K. Heng, S. B. Howell, S. T. Ishikawa, J. Kovács, T. Kozakis, L. Kriskovics, J. Lehtinen, C. Lintott, S. Lynn, D. Nespral, S. Nikbakhsh, K. Schawinski, J. R. Schmitt, A. M. Smith, Gy. Szabo, R. Szabo, J. Viuho, J. Wang, A. Weiksnar, M. Bosch, J. L. Connors, S. Goodman, G. Green, A. J. Hoekstra, T. Jebson, K. J. Jek, M. R. Omohundro, H. M. Schwengeler, A. Szewczyk, Planet Hunters IX. KIC 8462852 – Where’s the flux?, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Volume 457, Issue 4, 21 April 2016, Pages 3988–4004,
  • Horvat, Marko. (2015). KIC 8462852: “Remnants of a Failed Early Type II Civilization?”
  • “How Dyson Spheres Work?’
Beğen  5
Nitya Shailesh Palekar
Yazar

Mars on Earth Project-MoEP (India) Volunteer and Author. M.Sc. Biotechnology - Ramnarain Ruia Autonomous College

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