Enge vs. Dyson Sphere

The Dyson Sphere is roughly the same age as I am. Of course, the Dyson sphere is roughly 1 A.U. in radius and would be the most tremendous achievement of any society producing it, and similar claims are never made about me, at least not when I am sober. On the other hand, as of this writing, I actually exist. Advantage: Enge.

I’m not sure the Dyson Sphere concept makes any sense anyway. If you had the energy and resources to build it, you wouldn’t need it.

[Discoverblog item seen via james_nicoll.]

About JE

James Enge is the author of the World-Fantasy-Award-nominated novel Blood of Ambrose (Pyr, April 2009). His latest book is The Wide World's End. His short fiction has appeared in Swords and Dark Magic (Harper Collins, 2010), Black Gate, the Stabby-Award-winning anthology Blackguards and elsewhere.
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26 Responses to Enge vs. Dyson Sphere

  1. james_nicoll says:

    If you had the energy and resources to build it, you wouldn’t need it.

    How so? The classic original swarm can be built up gradually and provides a payoff for the investment the whole way through the project.

    • JE says:

      If we’re talking about a sufficient area of collectors to effectively catch all of the sun’s light at the radius of earth’s orbit, eventually we’re talking about breaking up planetary masses and moving them about. The increments involved at that stage would have to be very large. Apart from the repellent destructiveness of this process, the energies deployed would be titanic. If you have that much energy to deploy, it seems futile to deploy it just to get more energy.

      [edited for clarity–maybe not successfully]

      • peadarog says:

        the energies deployed would be titanic

        Yes. And we all know what happened to that! At least those of us who saw the movie do.

        Peadar the disignorant

      • jordan179 says:

        If we’re talking about a sufficient area of collectors to effectively catch all of the sun’s light at the radius of earth’s orbit, eventually we’re talking about breaking up planetary masses and moving them about.

        I actually think that Dyson swarms will mostly be built much farther inward, and furthermore that we’re likely to keep the ecliptic clear as much as possible, in order to allow them to coexist with natural planets.

      • james_nicoll says:

        If all you want is a swarm of collectors and radiators then you might be able to get by (at least in the initial stages) with the material in asteroid belt, which works out to about seven grams of material per square meter for a 1 AU swarm.

        One of the nice things about partial swarms is that they give one the ability to slowly increase the human ability to dismantle otherwise useless bodies. The comets and asteroids come pre-crumbled so we’d use them first and with the energy we get from those solar power plants we could dismantle objects like moons. Once the moons are used up, we can turn our attention to solid planets like Mars and Mercury and once they are gone, Venus will be on the chopping block.

        A full sized Dyson sphere controlling the output of the sun can take a Earth sized planet apart in about a week if that’s the only thing it uses its power on. The gas giants remain somewhat problematio: it would take at least six years to take Jupiter apart even if the only use you had for the sun’s energy was dismantling planets and most of it is largely useless hydrogen anyway.

  2. jordan179 says:

    Dyson spheres mostly make sense from the POV of very long-term energy conservation. The big assumption underlying them is that we will still need solar energy at that point — it’s my guess that we won’t. OTOH, I could see Dyson swarms just growing, like Topsy, no central plan required other than traffic control regulations.

  3. davidcapeguy says:

    Dyson spheres

    I’ve never been clear on what use a society would have for 100% of a star’s energy output. If they’re living inside the Dyson Sphere, the habital area would still have to be limited — I’m assuming that you spin the sphere to get 1-g, but seems to me that only a smallish percentage would get what you might call “straight-down” gravity, the direction of gravity inclining further and further from the vertical the closer you get to the sphere’s axis of rotation. They might have gravity control, of course, but if you have that, seems it would be simpler to use your resources to build tens of thousands of little worldlets — 100-km radius with 1-g and standard atmosphere — rather than putting all your eggs in one enormous basket.

    If, on the other hand, you assume that they have technologies on par with Doc Smith in “Skylark DuQuesne,” perhaps you could simply build a Dyson Sphere about stars in solar systems without life, as many as you like, and them somehow beam the power from thousands of stars to wherever it’s needed in this or other galaxies. (It’s so fun, ignoring inconvenient laws of physics!)

    But as always, the main thing that Dyson Spheres do for me is give me the feeling that I need to go back and read “Ringworld” yet again.

  4. bluetyson says:

    No-one ever built anything to show off, ever, did they?


    You read Walter Jon Williams’ Implied Spaces yet?

    • JE says:

      Haven’t read the WJW… but I have to admit, in the back of my mind, as I framed my practical objection to the sphere, I was thinking But suppose they’re impractical?

      So maybe I could see a Dyson Pyramid, as it were, easier than a Dyson Sphere.

      • bluetyson says:

        Not sure impractical bothers anyone.

        We have big human headed lions

        opera houses that sail

        big meccano towers in Paris

        leaning bits of Italy

        space needles

        chicks with crowns and torches

        not to mention Las Vegas

        if people are people and had that sort of ability, be pretty easy to see some way over the top stellar sized crap being hung out there. 🙂

        • JE says:

          Possibly so–there are practical limits even on impractical projects, though. The Eiffel Tower can’t have taken a significant amount of France’s resources to build. If a society got to the point where building a Dyson Sphere was a relatively trivial effort, I’m not sure they would be people anymore, exactly.

          • james_nicoll says:

            The thing is, with a swarm you don’t need to set out to do it all at once. You just keep adding elements a little at a time over a long time and at the end of it you have trillions of collectors blocking most of the energy from the star.

          • james_nicoll says:

            The Darien project in the late 17th century is a nice example of what happens when organizations tackle projects whose costs are large compared to the economy (or rather, what happens when those projects fail).

          • JE says:

            Interesting! This suggests a story–the fallout from a failed attempt to build a Dyson sphere (or another one of these mega-projects). For best effect, the afflicted system should have some mix of rivalry and alliance with the interstellar community it appeals to for help. There’d be scope for action by politicians, engineers & scientists, and daring space pilots. The stakes: the survival of the inhabited worlds–or their nonsurvival (if their rivals in the interstellar community are sufficiently ruthless).

  5. madwriter says:

    >>I’m not sure the Dyson Sphere concept makes any sense anyway. If you had the energy and resources to build it, you wouldn’t need it.< <

    Well, unless the superintelligent race, say, accidentally blows up a neighbor’s planet (or entire system) and they build the sphere as both apology and resettlement…:)

    • JE says:

      Or they have some sort of mysterious/nefarious purpose (as in Bob Shaw’s Orbitsville and its sequel).

      • james_nicoll says:

        The beings in Farthest Star wanted an intergalactic space ship, so they built one four times the mass of the sun and launched it at 1/6th C….

        • JE says:

          I’d forgotten that one. That was a historic Dyson sphere for me, too: Part One of “The Org’s Egg” was in the first issue of Galaxy I ever bought.

        • james_nicoll says:

          It takes a significant fraction of the power output of all the stars in a galaxy for years to get a ship that size up to speed.

          Not sure what the peak output on a galactic scale jet is, though.

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