Detecting Dyson Sphere Scale Civilizations When They Migrate to New Stars

A researcher makes the case that in cosmic scale terms, it is a very fast transition from having the start of intelligence and technology to becoming a Dyson sphere scale civilization. A Dyson Swarm or Dyson Sphere civilization would be one that uses all of the energy of a star to power its civilization.

The Homo Sapien “Great Leap Forward” leading to full behavioral modernity sets in only after separation. Rapidly increasing sophistication in tool-making and behaviour is apparent from about 80,000 years ago, and the migration out of Africa follows towards the very end of the Middle Paleolithic, some 60,000 years ago. Fully modern behaviour, including figurative art, music, self-ornamentation, trade, burial rites etc. is evident by 30,000 years ago. The oldest unequivocal examples of prehistoric art date to this period, the Aurignacian and the Gravettian periods of prehistoric Europe, such as the Venus figurines and cave painting (Chauvet Cave) and the earliest musical instruments (the bone pipe of Geissenklösterle, Germany, dated to about 36,000 years ago).

The shift from Egyptian, early China, Greek, Roman scale civilizations to Renaissance and then Industrialization was something relatively stable for three thousand years and then a six hundred year transition.

He and others like Freeman Dyson have proposed that we should use astronomy to look for the visible and detectable actions of some of those Dyson Sphere capable (Kardashev Type 2) civilizations.

He proposes that stellar scale civilizations that need to migrate to another star could use visible methods of migration.

He argues that a Type 2 civilization has fully mastered using the resources and energy of stars. They can use them to move stars. He ignores the planets because a mature Type 2 civilization could migrate to the surface of a neutron star. The intelligence would have changed substrate to become computronium. Computronium is the densest and fastest form of computation. He cites the beginnings of our transition to truly capable AI. Full Type 1, let alone full Type 2 civilizations would transition from chemical energy to mastering fully nuclear energy.

The binary star system would be the natural architecture of Type 2 civilizations.

He then shows that if the civilization is the surface of neutron star, they would be taking the energy flow of a companion star and evaporating the material flow. When the first star is used up, then they would move to the next star. Nearly, the entire neutron star could be the computronium of the Type 2 civilization.

He then proposes the stellar spider engine. The companion star would be manipulated with control moves with three directional thrust moves. The civilization would move to another star in about 400 years with 76000 ISP move using the remains of a star that they were consuming.

12 thoughts on “Detecting Dyson Sphere Scale Civilizations When They Migrate to New Stars”

  1. If we could see an intelligent alien star faring civilization, what would it look like?

    It would look like waste heat, glowing hot in the infrared.

    Humanity is currently about a Type 0.7 on the Kardashev scale and probably won’t obtain Type 1 status (commanding the energy of an entire planet) for another 100 to 200 years. A Type 2 (controlling the energy of entire solar system) would be capable of regular starflight. Such a civilization (Earth in 1,000 years?) would be able to build and launch fleets of massive starships.

    And they would have to be massive. A Project Orion design would be the most practical approach to interstellar travel. Just find a good sized nickel-iron asteroid. Hollow it out and shape it to look like a pencil. The sharp end is pure mass shielding at an acute deflective angle (like sloped armor on a tank). The rear is a reactive plate where the nuclear charges go off accelerating the craft. The entire ship is spun on its longitudinal axis to provide artificial gravity on the inside walls of the hollowed out interior.

    Such a craft would give off immense amounts of heat during acceleration, from impact with atoms and dust between the stars, and when decelerating upon arrival. Such heat would be visible across thousands of light years and be especially noticeable because it is moving at relativistic speeds. Any star-faring civilization would have hundreds of these rapidly moving heat generators cruising between the stars and it would be impossible to hide their heat signature.

    The other mega-structure built by a Type II star cruising civilization would be a Dyson swarm/sphere. These would also generate huge amounts of energy as waste heat in the infra-red range. There was actually a recent attempt to detect alien Dyson spheres using the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS).

    But again, nothing.

    In the grand scheme of things it would take relatively little time for an alien civilization to spread across the galaxy. Have each ship replicate itself once it reaches another star, sending out two more probes (or 10, or 100) Take one probe and double it only 19 times and you have over a million probes spreading throughout the galaxy.

    So what can we conclude:

    A. It only takes one space-faring intelligent species to spread across the galaxy.
    B. Using self replicating craft it can spread across the galaxy very quickly.
    C. Such a civilization and its ships would generate massive amounts of waste heat and radio waves that can be seen from anywhere in the galaxy as would the Dyson swarms constructed by each new colony.
    D. There are no such heat or radio signs anywhere of such a species.

    Conclusion: There are no other intelligent species in the galaxy (every other argument is special pleading). We are alone.

    • The fact we don’t see these Stapledon’s Star Maker civilizations already means either:

      a) they don’t exist and we are alone in the observable universe.

      b) they exist but all civilizations eventually find something more entertaining and worthwhile to do than occupying all of space and producing a lot of waste heat.

      Mi guess is on b)

      And no, going fully into virtual reality doesn’t preclude the need for mass and energy to feed a lot of computronium.

      I won’t discard really advanced civilizations eventually figuring out how to jump into
      “parallel spaces” or other universes, where they can grow without cubic space limits and then they forget about going into metastasis down here.

    • While all of this seems logical given our current knowledge, I can’t help but feel this is a bit like someone in the 19th century claiming that machines can’t fly because steam engines are too heavy. True given their knowledge, but based on wrong assumptions.

      (More extremely: cavemen failing to detect the radio chatter, asserting there is no one there because there are no smoke signals.)

      It is still possible there are physics we have not discovered yet, which do not give off a recognizable heat signature. Maybe something like warp drives, traversable wormholes, extra dimensions, or who knows what else.

      Even with known physics, can we really detect the heat glow of a relativistic starship running into interstellar dust? It’s a pretty good vacuum out there, and the starship will likely be as narrow as practical. And can we really detect the heat of a narrowly-collimated plasma exhaust that isn’t pointing straight at us (or even if it was), which may be only a few (tens of?) meters in diameter?

      • Google tells me that interstellar space has roughly 1 atom per cc, or 1e6 atoms/m^3, on average (it can vary significantly depending on region).
        A ship 50m in diameter has a cross section of about 2000 m^2.
        Traveling at c=3e8 m/s, it will sweep a volume of 6e11 m^3/s.
        It will encounter 6e17 atoms/s, 1 micro-mole of atoms per second.

        As interstellar gas is roughly 75% hydrogen and 25% helium, we can assume its molar mass to be 1.75g. 1 micro-mole is 1.75e-9 kg.
        Relativistic energy is approximately E ~= γ*m0*c^2.
        At 0.99c, γ is about 7. Therefore, the heat glow of this ship is, roughly:
        7*1.75e-9*(3e8^2) = ~1.1 GW.
        Significant, but hardly visible at cosmic distances.

        • For comparison, the energy balance of an Earth sized plant is on the order of 1e17 W, or 100,000,000 GW. And it’s a very dim IR source.
          A ship would would vaporize well before it becomes detectable.

    • I’ve been making the case for many years that the first star traveling race in a galaxy will, if even some small percentage of its individuals are willing to expand and colonize, will generally preclude any other such races ever arising. It needn’t be malicious. When Star Trek’s Federation encounters another race, they have the Prime Directive, but if they don’t find an intelligent species already on an attractive piece of real estate — boom, colony. Meaning any intelligent race that might someday have evolved there will never have the opportunity.

      The odds of the first race getting to our planet only in the tiny window after we evolved intelligence and before we started running into them? In a 13.8 billion year old universe it’s pretty small. Ergo, the odds are astronomically in favor of us being the only ones here. We are either early, or rare, or both, but regardless, if anyone else was already here, we would not be.

  2. Oh great. Exponentially increasing numbers of Dyson spheres? That’s how we get Boötes Voids people. Try to be more careful, huh?

  3. A K2 civilization is almost certainly going to start its expansion long before it starts messing with things like “computronium”, or trying to live on neutron stars. Because becoming a K-2 civilization doesn’t require any advances in physics beyond where we are now, or biology. It just requires developing Von Neuman replicators, self reproducing factories.

    You can surround an entire star with power collecting statites using just part of the mass of the asteroid belt, as statites by definition have to be very light weight. And the exponential growth of self-reproducing tech ensures that it doesn’t take long, in historical terms, to pull it off.

    In fact, the primary motivation for becoming a K-2 civilization in the first place is probably to provide the vast amount of power demanded for a program of interstellar colonization.

    So, what would you see? A star’s output gradually changing from a near point source of high temperature photons, to a much larger source of low temperature IR, as you’d be seeing only the radiator, not the star itself.

    And whatever visible artifacts the propulsion system this powered would produce. Likely enormously powerful particle beams being projected out in various directions, with ships riding them out.

    • I think the assumption is that biological aliens might phase-shift into digital aliens, and the latter may think more in terms of virtual space than physical space. That still translates into a need for real mass and energy to make memory and processors and power them. But local limits on mass and energy is going to push them to first focus on efficiency.

      We’ve seen this in our microchip history – instead of just making ever vaster numbers of 8080 processors, we kept pushing to tinier circuits on roughly the same size chips. Only as progress in that area slowed did parallel processing really take off.

      So rather than expanding to get more mass and energy, make better use of what you’ve already got until you get close to the limits of that.

      • I think they might do so eventually, but my opinion is that we’re a LOT closer to achieving a K-2 civilization than most people realize. Really, the only breakthrough needed is self-replicating factories, which we should have well before the century is done.

        Once you have those, with industrial capacity doubling every few months until waste heat limits are hit, a statite array could be constructed in well under a century. Once you’d assured yourself you weren’t going to destabilize your star, of course. Probably want to do only a statite ring, not the whole sphere, around your home star, and do the full sphere testing on a colony star dedicated to the purpose.

        So, I don’t think that we’d have TIME, outside of a “Blood Music” scenario, or other radical singularity event, to stop being fundamentally biological humans before we’re flinging massive star ships out at relativistic speeds.

        Becoming K-2 is just much simpler than fundamentally reengineering ourselves.

        • There seem to be two competing views: either space travel and colonization is so terribly hard, we become post-humans first.

          Or space travel and colonization was simply terribly delayed by boneheaded bureaucracy, but once it catches up, it becomes unstoppable and we go to live in space in the Savannah monkey bodies we have now.

          I prefer the second, of course, being a Savannah monkey and not wanting to rely on unproven things that might end up finishing humanity or what makes it worth it.

        • At least one of the major paths to self-replicating factories – full nanotechnology (or close to it) – also makes non-biological bodies much easier and more appealing. IMO, we’re likely to get that too before the end of this century.

          At that point, after a a bit more research to work out the details (which also becomes much easier with that tech), then it becomes just a matter of individual choice.

          Given that as you say, converting our host star to a dyson sphere also has some safety concerns to work out, and getting to the nearest neighbor to try it there is rather difficult and time consuming, I think we may we see both transitions at roughly the same time.

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