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Michael McDonald

Michael McDonald

Michael is an assistant professor of finance and a frequent consultant to companies regarding capital structure decisions and investments. He holds a PhD in finance…

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Scientists Suggest Aliens Are Harnessing Energy From This Star


Sometimes reality is stranger than fiction as the old adage goes. Scientists at Penn State studying a distant star called KIC 8462852 have released a new study postulating that based on the light it is emitting, an alien race may have constructed a massive device to that harnesses the power of the star. The theory is that the aliens have constructed a shell or semi-shell (a swarm in the jargon of the study) around the star and are siphoning off its power slowly over time. If this sounds like something out of an episode of Star Trek, then you are not far off.

The device being described is called a Dyson Sphere or a Dyson Swarm depending on the particulars of the construction. It’s named after physicist Freeman Dyson who described the concept in a 1960 study. The idea is that a massive system of energy collection is constructed all around the perimeter of a star. The most obvious tool for such a system is an array of solar panels. The panels essentially would form a globe all around the star and collect solar energy released over time.

The new study in question postulates the existence of the Dyson because of the way that the star is dimming over time. While it’s almost impossible to imagine what capabilities a hypothetical alien group might have, it is safe to say that the construction of a Dyson Sphere would be a mind-boggling achievement.

Put differently, just to encompass the Earth with mirrors would be a hard enough challenge. The circumference of the Earth is around 24,000 miles which means its diameter is about 7,600 miles. That gives the planet a surface area of around 1.8 trillion miles – essentially to construct a Dyson Sphere just around an Earth sized object would require quadrillions of solar panels. And the sun is much larger than the Earth. For that reason, the concept of a Dyson Sphere has largely stayed relegated to the bounds of science fiction. Humanity is eons away from being able to construct such a device, and indeed it may be impossible regardless of technology level simply from a materials standpoint. Related: Did OPEC Just Issue A Warning For Oil Prices In 2017?

Again, it’s impossible to practically image what capabilities an alien species might have, but a Dyson Sphere seems difficult to fathom in practice. Nonetheless, if such a device were built, it would mean that the civilization would have essentially unlimited power. A Dyson Sphere around the Earth’s sun would produce thousands of times more energy than what the human race needs. Of course it would also have the significant drawback of blocking out a significant portion of natural sunlight from reaching the Earth, which in turn would create a whole host of other problems.

To further investigate the star and try and better understand if it really is a mega structure around the star or merely comet fragments that are causing the strange behavior, a follow-up study of the star in question is on the way.

Practically speaking, as with many other studies, it’s unclear what the chances are of the authors’ conclusions being correct. But if they are, some day humanity might have to rethink what it means to truly harness the sun’s power.

By Michael McDonald of Oilprice.com


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  • Cambel Lai on August 14 2016 said:
    Sounds like the last Star Wars not Star Trek.
  • Cass Giles on August 14 2016 said:
    "Of course it would also have the significant drawback of blocking out a significant portion of natural sunlight from reaching the Earth, which in turn would create a whole host of other problems."

    That isn't necessarily so at all. You could construct it at a different orbit so that it wouldn't come between the sun and the earth.

    I would also posit that it may be far more technically feasible than one might think. Most concepts I've read about involve the solar panels being constructed by self-replicating robots, if not themselves being self-replicating robots, with the necessary raw material coming from asteroids.
  • Mark on August 15 2016 said:
  • H Teigan on August 15 2016 said:
    It's a mind blowing thought of course and interesting that we could observe it from afar. This is not a new study, it is from 2015 and was quite widely discussed in science media early this year.
  • Paul davis on August 17 2016 said:
    In every piece I read about this story I'm stunned by the lack of reasoned, logical thought.

    The hypothesis that aliens are responsible is generally stated with the following two sentiments and criticisms:
    "if it's a megastructure then it's for harvesting the stars energy with solar panels".
    "F type stars are too short lived to expect habitable planets nearby".

    The idea that our first proof of extraterrestrial intelligence would be within even a hundred thousand years of us - either ahead or behind - is statistically absurd. That's not just my opinion. Look at any expert in the fields that are involved here and to a person they agree that if we find evidence or even encounter an advanced species, the odds are very good they would be many hundreds of thousands of years ahead of us - if not millions of years.

    With that I mind it's painfully naive to think aliens at Tabby's star are putting up solar panels. The level of science and technology that they would be capable of are literally outside our imagination. The theories we hear floating around are small and unimaginative.

    As to the age of the star and the remote chances of life developing in its system, well, that actually fits when you think in terms of just how advanced they are.

    This probably isn't their home star. It could be a massive science experiment in creating wormholes or it could be a biological experiment to create a massive nature preserve inside a Dyson sphere.

    If it is an experiment it makes sense you wouldn't want to try it in your home system.
    It could be an entirely robotic operation to put together a new home for an oncoming generation ship.
    They could be creating a galactic hub where many species come together in a form of central government or a massive trading center.
    If they've developed warp capability (not impossible even with known physics) or interdimensional travel then either of those would be perfectly reasonable.
    Or it could be none of those things and if we suddenly had a way to go there today we could look at it up close and still have no idea what its purpose is.

    The point is, we really need to expand how we're thinking about this to something more than a bunch of solar panels.
  • Frank Varbel on September 04 2016 said:
    Speculating on the purpose for the energy is pointless. Civilizations need energy, and a structure like this is a logical conclusion once self-replicating/mass conversion technology is mastered.

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