Growing up, we watched in awe as science fiction movies and television gave us a glimpse of what the future might hold for mankind. But what if some of these phenomenons were actually not impossible to achieve? For example, what if we could harbor the energy from the sun to power all of Earth? If we were able to make the Dyson Sphere star concept a reality, we may be closer to the future than we previously thought. This huge, energy-absorbing megastructure could one day help us power our communities and possibly develop technologies we haven’t even thought of yet.
What is a Dyson Sphere?
A Dyson Sphere is a structure that encompasses a star and captures its energy for other uses. In our case, the purpose would be to supply energy to Earth. First described by Olaf Stapledon, and later popularized by theoretical physicist and mathematician Freeman Dyson, the Dyson Sphere is thought to be a viable future solution for our growing energy needs. In his 1960 paper “Search for Artificial Stellar Sources of Infrared Radiation,” Freeman suggests that using the sphere concept would be ideal, if not crucial, for the long-term survival of mankind.
Many depictions of the Dyson Sphere have included large shells of matter to harvest energy from the star it surrounds, while more popular ideas include the use of large solar panels used to retain and transfer the energy that is absorbed. Different variations of a Dyson Sphere have also been seen on television shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation, creating both a fanbase for the concept and controversy surrounding the hypothetical megastructure.
Could The Dyson Sphere Become A Reality or is it Just Sci-Fi?
As an immense, hollow ball, the structure has been deemed impossible. According to Stuart Armstrong, a research fellow at Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute, “An actual sphere around the sun is completely impractical.” The strength needed to ensure the sphere does no either rip itself to shreds or implode on the star it surrounds cannot come from any source currently known to man.
Another known issue is that the sphere would not be able to gravitationally bind itself to the star, resulting in a highly unstable structure. However, it doesn’t end there. A newer concept, a Dyson Swarm, has not only been theorized, but scientists have also begun planning the project for quite some time. The Dyson Swarm is made up of a large number of solar power satellites or space habitats around a star. Using materials mined from Mercury, the entire process for building a Dyson Swarm could take as little as a few decades.
One major downside to the Dyson Swarm is the possibility that once Mercury has been dismantled, we may have to move on to other planets such as Venus, Earth, and Mars. Using our solar system in this way could mean having to create other habitats as substitutes for Earth.
So the answer we are given is “Yes.” Yes, the Dyson Sphere/Swarm could become a reality, but at what price? And yes, the concept is still science fiction, but isn’t everything until we found a way to make it real? Only time, energy, and more research will tell, but don’t expect to see these fanatical structures anytime in the near future.