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Posts Tagged ‘kardashev

[BRIEF NOTE] On the questionable sense of transforming Mercury into a Dyson sphere

It’s not often that I see megascale engineering projects like–say–the disassembly of the planet Mercury into a Dyson sphere–appear on my RSS feed, but appear it did via three posts: Alex Knapp’s “Destroying Mercury To Build A Dyson Sphere Is A Bad Idea”, following up with ‘I emailed Astronomer Phil Plait’ now officially a red flag”, and Knapp following up with “A Few More Notes On The Impracticality Of Building A Dyson Sphere”.

Both authors were reacting to a post by George Dvorsky, “How to build a Dyson sphere in five (relatively) easy steps”, which argued that it would be possible to start taking Mercury apart in just a couple of generations (an upper limit of fifty years was mentioned).

Let’s build a Dyson sphere! By enveloping the sun with a massive array of solar panels, humanity would graduate to a Type 2 Kardashev civilization capable of utilizing nearly 100% of the sun’s energy output.

A Dyson sphere would provide us with more energy than we would ever know what to do with while dramatically increasing our living space. Given that our resources here on Earth are starting to dwindle, and combined with the problem of increasing demand for more energy and living space, this would seem to a good long-term plan for our species.

Towards the end, Dvorsky even suggests dissassembling the other planets of the solar system, to maximize the energy collected.

[W]hy go all the way? Well, it’s very possible that our appetite for computational power will become quite insatiable. It’s hard to predict what a post-Singularity or post-biological civilization would do with so much computation power. Some ideas include ancestor simulations, or even creating virtual universes within universes. In addition, an advanced civilization may simply want to create as many positive individual experiences as possible (a kind of utilitarian imperative). Regardless, digital existence appears to be in our future, so computation will eventually become our most valuable and sought after resource.

That said, whether we build a small array or one that envelopes the entire sun, it seems clear that the idea of constructing a Dyson sphere should no longer be relegated to science fiction or our dreams of the deep future. Like other speculative projects, like the space elevator or terraforming Mars, we should seriously consider putting this alongside our other near-term plans for space exploration and work.

And given the progressively worsening condition of Earth and our ever-growing demand for living space and resources, we may have no other choice.

The thing is, the resource shortages that are likely to be experienced are so trivial relative to the energy and resources that would be produced by a Mercury disassembled into energy collectors–and trivial relative to all of the dfferent resources required to develop the technology base capable of disassembling Mercury into energy collectors–that the overshoot is ludicrous. Knapp and Nicoll identify any number of failings, including the immense cost in resources necessary, the need to develop autonomous mining technologies capable of disassembling an entire planet in reasonable time, the question of what to do with the leftover debris of the planet and how, the problems involved with transmitting the produced energy to Earth (including the certainty that if the energy from the sphere was all transmitted to Earth the planet would superheat to a degree that would make Venus look clement), and, as Nicoll pointed out, the problems involved with unleashing self-replicating technology of such power: “[P]roposing we can do this any time soon is silly but yes, given improbable technology taking Mercury apart with solar energy might be doable in a surprisingly short time from first self-replicating machine lands on Mercury to final human tracked down in their Kuiper Belt bolt-hole and processed for raw materials for the Things the Replicators on Mercury Evolved into Thanks to Imperfect but Insanely Rapid Replication and Natural Selection”.


Written by Randy McDonald

April 10, 2012 at 4:00 am