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Thread: Dyson spheres

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    Default Dyson spheres

    So, the topic came up and quickly the sheer immensity of the project showed how impossible it is. For those who dont know, the basic concept is, building a giant sphere around the sun in the goldilocks zone, to capture every drop of energy emitted by the sun possible and use that to fuel your entire super advanced society. You can even live inside of said sphere because, again, its built in the habitable distance from the sun and so would be easy (for any society capable of building a sphere) to turn it into a trillion mile large living area. For the record, the goldilocks zone is roughly .8 au wide around our sun. Im pretty sure you could render every single planet, moon, and asteroid field into basic mineral sheets and still not have enough material to even begin to encompass that wide of an area. If you have the capability of building such a thing, I cant think of any reason why you would need to do so anymore.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Traab View Post
    So, the topic came up and quickly the sheer immensity of the project showed how impossible it is. For those who dont know, the basic concept is, building a giant sphere around the sun in the goldilocks zone, to capture every drop of energy emitted by the sun possible and use that to fuel your entire super advanced society. You can even live inside of said sphere because, again, its built in the habitable distance from the sun and so would be easy (for any society capable of building a sphere) to turn it into a trillion mile large living area. For the record, the goldilocks zone is roughly .8 au wide around our sun. Im pretty sure you could render every single planet, moon, and asteroid field into basic mineral sheets and still not have enough material to even begin to encompass that wide of an area. If you have the capability of building such a thing, I cant think of any reason why you would need to do so anymore.
    I imagine what you'd actually do is just build it much closer to the star, and build it in such a way that you're mining the star itself for the materials to fill in gaps in the scaffold. Rather than making the entire thing a solid surface one could live on, that means that first of all you can reduce the project cost by a lot by reducing the radius to the minimum that your materials can tolerate as far as stresses and heat; second of all you can make it just thick enough to capture material and energy, no thicker; third of all, your initial outlay is just however sparse of a scaffold will still work to sustain those stresses, and the actual harvesting surfaces can grow as you go.

    Most of what you'd mine from the star, especially a younger star, would be energy and hydrogen of course. So it might make more sense to actually do this around a supernova remnant or something where most of the hydrogen has been blown off, the star is generally cooler and smaller (so you can build much closer), and you might have a lot of heavier metals you can mine from the residual solar winds. The energy output will be much lower but you're still capturing the entire output of a star. So like, do this baby steps project first and if thats not enough go and use what you keep mining to start up the next more ambitious sphere.

    By the time you're doing Dyson sphere stuff, living area isn't really going to be your limiting resource anyhow... well, barring very strange directions a society could take over a hundred million year span.

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    The thing with Dyson spheres is that you don't actually build a sphere, you build a swarm of units that orbit the star at whatever the idealized point for solar energy conversion happens to be (probably a lot less than 0.8 AU). At sufficient density this might appear like a 'sphere' especially from other star systems, but it would never build a solid sphere - a solid sphere can't orbit a star, which is a problem, well, stars are in motion.

    If your swarm was placed at 0.5 AU, the total surface area of the 'sphere' would be roughly 70.5 quadrillion square kilometers. That's a lot. Earth has a total volume of around 1 trillion cubic kilometers, which obviously can't compare. But, if the majority of the Dyson swarm is made up of solar panels surfaces that is only 0.00003 kilometers thick (the average solar panel has a 30 millimeter thickness) then that covers 33 quadrillion square kilometers, and you only need two Earths to wrap the star in a film of solar panels.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Traab View Post
    So, the topic came up and quickly the sheer immensity of the project showed how impossible it is.
    Not that I expect us to get anywhere close within my lifetime. But we're seeing a large number of things done that were once considered impossible. Harvesting a star for energy and the surrounding solar system for raw materials is a perfectly reasonable goal for a far future society. And one I expect our descendants to pull off if we don't eradicate our technological society (possibly alongside our species) first.

    If you have the capability of building such a thing, I cant think of any reason why you would need to do so anymore.
    Look at how energy policy shapes so much of our world. Energy is hugely important for any technological society, and the ability to gather large amounts of it would be very handy. Some avenues aren't followed up on nowadays due to either economic (e.g: rooftop solar might not have the returns to justify placing and maintaining panels) or political reasons, but when you can expect a regular energy return for launching a satellite I expect it to be exploited quickly. Not unlike the benefits of having a satellite in orbit today.

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    I’m pretty sure you’d need a space elevator or something before launching energy-harvesting satellites makes sense. With rockets, you’re basically paying for your satellite-energy with burned rocket fuel.

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    It's as simple as stacking bricks around a campfire to build an oven. These would be bricks we haven't learned how to fire, though, yet.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Imbalance View Post
    It's as simple as stacking bricks around a campfire to build an oven. These would be bricks we haven't learned how to fire, though, yet.
    Except if you build the bricks slightly wrong, they don't break and crash into the campfire. That's the problem: solid dyson spheres are not dynamically stable.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Imbalance View Post
    It's as simple as stacking bricks around a campfire to build an oven. These would be bricks we haven't learned how to fire, though, yet.
    Its not so much the concept as it is the scale. Building a brick oven is one thing, building a brick oven large enough to engulf the full orbit of several planets is a wee bit more challenging. And thats ignoring all the other issues as was said.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nerd-o-rama View Post
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    Quote Originally Posted by Traab View Post
    Its not so much the concept as it is the scale. Building a brick oven is one thing, building a brick oven large enough to engulf the full orbit of several planets is a wee bit more challenging. And thats ignoring all the other issues as was said.
    It's something we might do when we can (if it turns out that available technologies make it sensible in the future), it's clearly something we can't yet do.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mechalich View Post
    The thing with Dyson spheres is that you don't actually build a sphere, you build a swarm of units that orbit the star at whatever the idealized point for solar energy conversion happens to be (probably a lot less than 0.8 AU). At sufficient density this might appear like a 'sphere' especially from other star systems, but it would never build a solid sphere - a solid sphere can't orbit a star, which is a problem, well, stars are in motion.

    If your swarm was placed at 0.5 AU, the total surface area of the 'sphere' would be roughly 70.5 quadrillion square kilometers. That's a lot. Earth has a total volume of around 1 trillion cubic kilometers, which obviously can't compare. But, if the majority of the Dyson swarm is made up of solar panels surfaces that is only 0.00003 kilometers thick (the average solar panel has a 30 millimeter thickness) then that covers 33 quadrillion square kilometers, and you only need two Earths to wrap the star in a film of solar panels.
    You can't really do a swarm, though, due to orbital mechanics - satellites always follow 'great circle' paths, and if you do those in different orientations at the same radial distance, you're going to get collisions. If you do them at different distances, then you get satellites obscuring each other, which greatly reduces the efficiency of your collection process.
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    Sounds expensive. What we should do, is find someone else who already built one, and borrow it for a couple of civilizations.

    What could possibly go wrong?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lord Torath View Post
    You can't really do a swarm, though, due to orbital mechanics - satellites always follow 'great circle' paths, and if you do those in different orientations at the same radial distance, you're going to get collisions. If you do them at different distances, then you get satellites obscuring each other, which greatly reduces the efficiency of your collection process.
    It's the same problem as designing satellite constellations. If you allow a bit of station keeping it shouldn't be too bad until you start to get over like 1% coverage, and 1% of a solar output is still ginormous.

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    Why would you build it in the goldilocks zone? That seems wasteful. The sensible thing would be to build it as close as you can without the components melting and then storing and transferring the energy somehow (edit: or running all the machines there and then ferrying the products out
    Last edited by Bohandas; 2023-11-14 at 10:26 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bohandas View Post
    Why would you build it in the goldilocks zone? That seems wasteful. The sensible thing would be to build it as close as you can without the components melting and then storing and transferring the energy somehow (edit: or running all the machines there and then ferrying the products out
    Since the primary purpose of a dyson swarm is energy generation, you'd want to place the panel elements are whatever point produced maximal energy return, which is probably a much lower heat level than just below the melting point. Exactly where this is isn't known and probably depends on exactly what you're building the panels out off, since there are different options and the logical move would be whatever in situ resources are available - so a swarm element produced from a Main Belt asteroid would potentially use a different process than one made by disassembling Mercury.

    The energy would be transferred by either microwave or laser transmission. This is an already emerging technology, though it's still very new, but there's no theoretical reason why it can't be scaled up massively. Giant beams of space power do produce certain weapons-related issues though, since basically anything that outputs megawatts can be weaponized.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mechalich View Post
    Since the primary purpose of a dyson swarm is energy generation,
    It is? first I heard of that, I always heard the main befefit of Dyson spheres was a huge surface that can be lived on by a very much larger population than the surface of the Earth, a macro planet for people who don't like the idea of space. As such you'd want it as far out as was consistent with keeping warm, which with all the energy being kept in might be as far out as the orbit of Mars or maybe even further.
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    Quote Originally Posted by halfeye View Post
    It is? first I heard of that, I always heard the main befefit of Dyson spheres was a huge surface that can be lived on by a very much larger population than the surface of the Earth, a macro planet for people who don't like the idea of space. As such you'd want it as far out as was consistent with keeping warm, which with all the energy being kept in might be as far out as the orbit of Mars or maybe even further.
    That would presumably add including things like an atmosphere and Earth-like gravity to an already massive undertaking. I guess it might be worth it if you need to fit a truly insane amount of people in the same solar system, but that seems like a very specific need.

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    Quote Originally Posted by halfeye View Post
    It is? first I heard of that, I always heard the main befefit of Dyson spheres was a huge surface that can be lived on by a very much larger population than the surface of the Earth, a macro planet for people who don't like the idea of space. As such you'd want it as far out as was consistent with keeping warm, which with all the energy being kept in might be as far out as the orbit of Mars or maybe even further.
    That is, where you build a Ringworld, instead. Which, unfortunately, has a lot of the same problems as the Dyson sphere (stability, reward vs engineering challenge). Thus, as with the Dyson swarm, you would probably opt for something less ambitious, like several planet size rings or cylinders in orbit of, but not around your host star. That still hugely increases living space per mass over traditional planets, and can be scaled up as needed. You probably do not need a million earth surfaces all at once, you build them one by one, instead.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Seppl View Post
    That is, where you build a Ringworld, instead. Which, unfortunately, has a lot of the same problems as the Dyson sphere (stability, reward vs engineering challenge). Thus, as with the Dyson swarm, you would probably opt for something less ambitious, like several planet size rings or cylinders in orbit of, but not around your host star. That still hugely increases living space per mass over traditional planets, and can be scaled up as needed. You probably do not need a million earth surfaces all at once, you build them one by one, instead.
    Feasible megastructural habitats include Bishop Rings and McKendree Cylinders or some sort of similar large, rotating, nanotube based design, to produce a habitat with some millions of square kilometers worth of interior surface (which could presumably house a few hundred million people, depending on resource availability). Feasibility here is based mostly on structural limitations of known materials. Larry Niven's Ringworld, for example, is so large that the gravitational stresses it produces would create shearing forces greater than current theoretical limits on atomic bonds. A Banks Orbital is less crazy, but still requires postulating superstrong materials beyond anything we are currently aware exists to avoid self-destruction.

    Ultimately, it's not clear why anyone would build a Dyson sphere or swarm, since the energy output of such a thing would be unbelievable. Possibly it could be used to power interstellar spacecraft by accelerating solar sails and such or it could be used to run a Matrioshka Brain if it turns out that's something anyone might want to have (which is mostly dependent upon certain other technologies).
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    Quote Originally Posted by Batcathat View Post
    That would presumably add including things like an atmosphere and Earth-like gravity to an already massive undertaking. I guess it might be worth it if you need to fit a truly insane amount of people in the same solar system, but that seems like a very specific need.
    And currently, we have no way of providing gravity to a sphere. If you try to live on the inside surface, the only gravity you feel will be from the sun. Ringworld gets around that by rotating the ring quickly enough to generate 1 G outward via centripetal1 force. I don't know if anyone's looked at what kind of structure would be required to resist that stress on a ring of that size. It could work if you live on the outside surface I suppose. I'm not sure how thick the sphere would need to be combined with distance from the central star, but I suspect it would be a relatively trivial calculation.

    We'd also need a lot of oxygen and nitrogen for a breathable atmosphere. Not sure just where we'd get that. There's a fair bit of hydrogen available, but it's not going to be trivial to turn that into those other gasses in sufficient quantities.

    1. I think this is the correct usage, since we're looking at this from the reference frame of someone standing on the ring, rather than an outside observer.
    Last edited by Lord Torath; 2023-11-15 at 09:18 AM.
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    Your habitats are going to leak air every time someone exhales facing away from the direction of rotation
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lord Torath View Post
    We'd also need a lot of oxygen and nitrogen for a breathable atmosphere. Not sure just where we'd get that. There's a fair bit of hydrogen available, but it's not going to be trivial to turn that into those other gasses in sufficient quantities.
    Assuming people don't want to live on a flat surface of whatever the sphere is made of, we'd also need a crazy amount of soil, rock and stuff like that.

    On the topic of gravity, would it be (at least theoretically) possible to accomplish it by having the sphere itself be thick enough to generate gravity in the right direction (and assuming the sun is far enough away not to pull everything in the opposite direction)?

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    A Dyson sphere just seems inefficient for habitat, if we're talking about one solid shell. Needs gravity, needs atmosphere, needs soil and water, and has no inherent day-night cycle.

    For the same material, you could build more rotating cylinders or similar stations than any civilization could ever need.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eldan View Post
    A Dyson sphere just seems inefficient for habitat, if we're talking about one solid shell. Needs gravity, needs atmosphere, needs soil and water, and has no inherent day-night cycle.

    For the same material, you could build more rotating cylinders or similar stations than any civilization could ever nee

    Only the atmosphere part is strictly necessary.

    And who says the entire thing needs to be inhabited? You could build a network of sealed buildings connected by tubes.

    EDIT:
    BTW, does anyone know why sci-fi programs always depict sealed buildings like this as being dome shaped? Is it just because it looks cool or is it inspired by some real proposal?
    Last edited by Bohandas; 2023-11-15 at 12:14 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bohandas View Post
    Only the atmosphere part is strictly necessary.

    And who says the entire thing needs to be inhabited? You could build a network of sealed buildings connected by tubes.

    EDIT:
    BTW, does anyone know why sci-fi programs always depict sealed buildings like this as being dome shaped? Is it just because it looks cool or is it inspired by some real proposal?
    I mean in general arches and domes are good geometries to distribute stresses. If you're sustaining a pressure differential against an external environment, anywhere you have a point or edge or even just a region with smaller radius of curvature than some other area, that area is going to be under more stress than the rest of the structure. I don't know if that's the particular reason motivating a given sci-fi program's art direction, but its a reason why one might want to use a dome.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bohandas View Post
    And who says the entire thing needs to be inhabited? You could build a network of sealed buildings connected by tubes.
    If you're not going to use that ridiculous amount of space, there seems to be little point to living in a Dyson sphere (I guess that if you're building one anyway to collect energy and want to keep living in the solar system, it might be the best choice, but still).

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    Like Mechalich said, the primary point of building a Dyson sphere is energy generation
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bohandas View Post
    Like Mechalich said, the primary point of building a Dyson sphere is energy generation
    Of course, I just meant that if people are gonna live on it, the massive amount of space seems like the only upside compared to just living on planets.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bohandas View Post
    BTW, does anyone know why sci-fi programs always depict sealed buildings like this as being dome shaped? Is it just because it looks cool or is it inspired by some real proposal?
    My guess is both. The idea of dome cities was probably the most sensible plan back during the starry-eyed days when people thought that space habitats were right around the corner. As time went on geodesic dome = futuristic space habitat just became a part of the public consciousness even if scientists nowadays consider them impractical.

    Quote Originally Posted by Batcathat View Post
    Of course, I just meant that if people are gonna live on it, the massive amount of space seems like the only upside compared to just living on planets.
    If we're disassembling whole solar systems, we're likely to run out of energy and required nutrients well before we run out of living space to put all of them on. I could see the point of people living on a dyson sphere, but only when we've redefined the terms "people" and "living" to the point where we have digitized consciousnesses existing as circuits on the surface of one. At that point it's a question of whether you can get more computing power per unit of mass in a solid sphere or a shell. If you have actual humans who would be recognizably similar to you or me, the inside of the sphere would have no gravity and spinning it for pseudogravity would only create an effect in a fairly narrow band. Making it unsuitable for things like building familiar habitations and maintaining an atmosphere.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Anymage View Post
    If we're disassembling whole solar systems, we're likely to run out of energy and required nutrients well before we run out of living space to put all of them on. I could see the point of people living on a dyson sphere, but only when we've redefined the terms "people" and "living" to the point where we have digitized consciousnesses existing as circuits on the surface of one. At that point it's a question of whether you can get more computing power per unit of mass in a solid sphere or a shell. If you have actual humans who would be recognizably similar to you or me, the inside of the sphere would have no gravity and spinning it for pseudogravity would only create an effect in a fairly narrow band. Making it unsuitable for things like building familiar habitations and maintaining an atmosphere.
    Good point, circuits are a lot less picky about their living conditions than flesh and blood people are. Cooling might an issue, but considering we're talking about a civilization who can turn a solar system into a PC, I suppose it's probably a minor one.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Maat Mons View Post
    I’m pretty sure you’d need a space elevator or something before launching energy-harvesting satellites makes sense. With rockets, you’re basically paying for your satellite-energy with burned rocket fuel.
    Even better, make a space station that build the drones that harvest minerals from the asteroid belt.

    Step one is to make a moon base as a refueling station, if we can manufacture fuel from materials on the moon then we can make drones go anywhere.
    From there we send drones to the moon base and then send them to the asteroid belt, we'll need different kinds of drones. Some for harvesting, some for hauling, some for placing, and an ever expanding space station to smelt, forge and assemble more drones.

    When the entire belt is converted into drones we'll need to disassemble Ceres, then Mars and convert them into drones. From there we'll have enough resources to start on a swarm that eventually devours the entire solar system. In a few thousand years we'll have our Dyson swarm.
    Last edited by Mastikator; 2023-11-15 at 03:57 PM. Reason: spelling
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