Capturing the Sun

Teppei Fukuto and Riley Perrotta STEM Jul 01, 2020

What is a “Dyson Sphere”?

The Dyson Sphere is a megastructure around a star designed to capture the energy it outputs. It was originally a thought experiment made by Freeman Dyson to explain how a multi-planetary civilization would get their energy. Dyson speculated that such structures would be necessary for our civilization to advance past the bounds of the earth and into the solar system. By harnessing the energy output of the Sun, or any star for that matter, any civilization would have the ability to, not only give our civilization enough energy to survive, but also enough energy for interstellar travel.

How does a Dyson Sphere work?

Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project by Amble; CC BY-SA 4.0

A Dyson Sphere would basically work like a giant solar farm, just in space orbiting a star. We couldn't use conventional solar panels because they are far too expensive, inefficient, and fragile, but there are alternatives. We could have thousands of mirrors focus light on a central collection point, much like ones we have today (shown above) which could greatly reduce the amount of materials necessary to build the Dyson Sphere. These mirrors could also last much longer in space then conventional solar panels.

What are the Different Types of Dyson Spheres?

There are many different types of Dyson Spheres, each takes a different approach to making the Dyson Sphere.

Dyson Swarms

Source: Wikimedia Commons

This type of Dyson “Sphere” is the closest thing to Freeman Dyson’s original idea. Dyson Swarms are made up of an army of upwards of 1 quintillion satellites (for our sun; 1.0 x 1018 ) orbiting a star. A Dyson Swarm can be built piece by piece, allowing for the energy produced by the initial satellites to be used to create even more satellites. The simplest configuration of the Dyson Swarm is the Dyson Ring, where there is one ring around the Sun similar to that of Saturn or Jupiter. Each satellite must be cheap, easy to produce, and last a long time; as such the easiest design is to make them giant mirrors that direct the sunlight to a central area where the energy is stored.

Dyson Bubbles

Dyson bubbles would work with the same principles that of a Dyson Swarm except for one key difference. Instead of satellites, there would be satatites. A satatite is a hypothetical “stationary” satellite which would “hover” above a star using a solar sail.

Dyson Shells

A Dyson Shell is a solid shell around a star. This would be capable of capturing 100% of a star's energy output. Even though this would be extremely beneficial in terms of energy output,, there are some fatal flaws that would immediately eliminate this design. Since a Dyson Shell is a solid sphere, it would be prone to collisions and drift. This could lead to the entirety of the shell collapsing into the sun.

Wireless Energy Transfer

There are many different forms of energy transfer, like using copper wire, a charger for a phone, or a cord to a light. In a system of quintillions of orbiting satellites, physical means of transferring energy would be extremely expensive and complicated. In the case of a Dyson Sphere, the ideal way of moving energy around would be through lasers. We could turn the energy from the Dyson Sphere into concentrated lasers and beam it wherever we want. The laser would then shine onto photovoltaic cells and be converted into electrical energy. The main drawback of this is that it is inefficient, transferring only about 25% of the energy made. But, as of now, this is the best way of wirelessly transferring energy over long distances.

Advantages of Having a Dyson Sphere

There are many advantages of having a Dyson Sphere. Obviously, having boundless energy from the Sun is great, but there is much more to be gained from building a Dyson Sphere. Thinking bigger, a Dyson Sphere would allow for interstellar travel, as voyaging through the vastness of space would require a large amount of energy. With this energy, we could terraform planets, or create supercomputers that could simulate entire civilizations, or create more megastructures, like one around a black hole to gain even more energy. We will be able to control many planets and gain their resources, and change humans into a multiplanetary species. The possibilities are endless, and the Dyson Sphere is the first step in achieving these things.

Featured animation by Karl Bednarik; CC BY-SA 3.0


Basic Dyson Sphere sources-

Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell-

Wireless Energy Transfer-

Teppei Fukuto

Teppei writes for the STEM column. A junior, he enjoys running, Science Olympiad, D&D, and manga. He speaks fluent Japanese and loves listening to music. He wants to see PJHS SciO go to Nationals.

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