Scientists Hope to Find Aliens by Searching for Dyson Spheres

Searching for aliens? Search for their solar panels.

Picture: Segrim (CC)

In 1960, mathematician, physicist, and all-around genius Freeman Dyson predicted that every civilization in the Universe eventually runs out of energy on its home planet, provided it survives long enough to do so. Dyson argued that this event constitutes a major hurdle in a civilization’s evolution, and that all those who leap over it do so in precisely the same way: they build a massive collector of starlight, a shell of solar panels to surround their home star. Astronomers have taken to calling these theoretical megastructures Dyson Spheres. Dyson’s insight may seem like nothing more than a thought experiment, but if his hypothesis is sound, it has a striking implication: if you want to find advanced alien civilizations, you should look for signs of Dyson Spheres.

Last month a trio of astronomers led by Penn State’s Jason Wright began a two-year search for Dyson Spheres, a search that will span the Milky Way, along with millions of other galaxies. Their project was just awarded a sizable grant from the Templeton Foundation, a philanthropic organization that funds research on the “big questions” that face humanity, questions relating to “human purpose and ultimate reality.”

So how do Wright and his team aim to find a Dyson Sphere? Though the word “sphere” summons to mind a solid structure, Wright says his team won’t be looking for solid shells. “Even though there is enough mass in our solar system to construct a solid sphere, such a structure would not be mechanically feasible,” Wright told me. “It would probably have to be more like a swarm of collectors.”

Read more at The Atlantic.

Hat tip: Legendary Times

  • Anonymous

    I only know dyson spheres from Star Trek TNG where Scotty shows up.

    • Matt Staggs

      I hear “Dyson” and think of vacuum cleaners.

      • King Of Bob

        I think of Terminator 2 personally.

    • James Tuck

      The name of the episode you’re referring to is “Relics.”

  • kowalityjesus

    I think the theory that Dyson spheres are the ultimate energy source for intelligent life is in the same vein as the idea that Alien civilizations will never visit earth because they can never exceed the speed of light. It is like an 18th century scientist thinking that the ‘world of 2000’ will have a sky full of pigeons carrying messages because it is the fastest way to communicate.

    • emperorreagan

      In theory, we may not believe in geocentrism these days.

      In practice, human knowledge and theories are basically all geocentric.

      • Anarchy Pony

        The term you are looking for is “anthropocentric”.

        • Simiantongue

          Maybe egocentric?

        • emperorreagan

          Yeah, better choice of terminology. I had a hard time getting geocentric out for the first part – my mind stalled on heliocentric this afternoon.

  • Anarchy Pony

    Or they could be sane enough to not have to go to such ridiculous measures for energy.

  • BuzzCoastin

    how would unintelligent life forms recognize intelligent life?
    kind makes this a real challenge

    • Calypso_1

      …makes me wonder, has anybody with SETI ever tried to transmit cetacean calls?

      • BuzzCoastin

        that would trick the message’s recipients
        into to suspecting there was intelligent life on Earth after all

        I read somewhere
        that the energy required to send or receive a omnidirectional SETI signal
        over cosmic distances
        would require more energy than presently used by humans

      • kowalityjesus

        It would be misleading, like when Sagan declined to put J.S. Bach on the voyager discs saying “that would just be bragging.”

        • Calypso_1

          or it could have been our only hope

          • kowalityjesus

            amen, LOL!

  • hmmmm……

    Dyson spheres is one theory, I believe it is much easier to take to the stars and colonize. Much easier than to construct a project of such scale.

  • alizardx

    Given the distances, might as well look for BIG targets radiating in IR. I suspect that we’ll find them, and hope we can find evidence for civilizations who have found more elegant solutions. The most important thing about implementing a technology is knowing it can be done. (aka why drones and reusable EMP bombs will be biting us on the ass Real Soon Now)