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 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.
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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.
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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.
This article originally appeared on OilPrice.com. Read more from OilPrice.com:
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