Astronomers are on the hunt for Dyson spheres (2024)

Astronomers are on the hunt for Dyson spheres (1)

There's something poetic about humanity's attempt to detect other civilizations somewhere in the Milky Way's expanse. There's also something futile about it. But we're not going to stop. There's little doubt about that.

One group of scientists thinks that we may already have detected technosignatures from a technological civilization's Dyson spheres, but the detection is hidden in our vast troves of astronomical data.

A Dyson sphere is a hypothetical engineering project that only highly advanced civilizations could build. In this sense, "advanced" means the kind of almost unimaginable technological prowess that would allow a civilization to build a structure around an entire star. These Dyson spheres would allow a civilization to harness all of a star's energy.

A civilization could only build something so massive and complex if they had reached Level II in the Kardashev Scale. Dyson spheres could be a technosignature, and a team of researchers from Sweden, India, the U.K., and the U.S. developed a way to search for Dyson sphere technosignatures they're calling Project Hephaistos. (Hephaistos was the Greek god of fire and metallurgy.)

They've published their results in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. The research is titled "Project Hephaistos—II. Dyson sphere candidates from Gaia DR3, 2MASS, and WISE."

The lead author is Matías Suazo, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Uppsala University in Sweden. This is the second paper presenting Project Hephaistos. The first one is here.

"In this study, we present a comprehensive search for partial Dyson spheres by analyzing optical and infrared observations from Gaia, 2MASS, and WISE," the authors write. These are large-scale astronomical surveys designed for different purposes.

Each one of them generated an enormous amount of data from individual stars. "This second paper examines the Gaia DR3, 2MASS, and WISE photometry of ~5 million sources to build a catalogue of potential Dyson spheres," they explain.

Combing through all of that data is an arduous task. In this work, the team of researchers developed a special data pipeline to work its way through the combined data of all three surveys. They point out that they're searching for partially completed spheres, which would emit excess infrared radiation.

"This structure would emit waste heat in the form of mid-infrared radiation that, in addition to the level of completion of the structure, would depend on its effective temperature," Suazo and his colleagues write.

The problem is, they're not the only objects to do so. Many natural objects do, too, like circ*mstellar dust rings and nebulae. Background galaxies can also emit excess infrared radiation and create false positives. It's the pipeline's job to filter them out.

"A specialized pipeline has been developed to identify potential Dyson sphere candidates focusing on detecting sources that display anomalous infrared excesses that cannot be attributed to any known natural source of such radiation," the researchers explain.

This flowchart shows what the pipeline looks like.

Astronomers are on the hunt for Dyson spheres (2)

The pipeline is just the first step. The team subjects the list of candidates to further scrutiny based on factors like H-alpha emissions, optical variability, and astrometry.

In the last cut, 368 sources survived. Of those, 328 were rejected as blends, 29 were rejected as irregulars, and four were rejected as nebulars. That left only seven potential Dyson spheres out of about 5 million initial objects, and the researchers are confident that those seven are legitimate.

"All sources are clear mid-infrared emitters with no clear contaminators or signatures that indicate an obvious mid-infrared origin," they explain.

These are the seven strongest candidates, but the researchers know they're still just candidates. There could be other reasons why the seven are emitting excess infrared. "The presence of warm debris disks surrounding our candidates remains a plausible explanation for the infrared excess of our sources," they explain.

But their candidates seem to be M-type (red dwarf) stars, and debris disks around M-dwarfs are very rare. However, it gets complicated because some research suggests that debris disks around M-dwarfs form differently and present differently.

One type of debris disk called Extreme Debris Disks (EDD) can explain some of the luminosity the team sees around their candidates. "But these sources have never been observed in connection with M dwarfs," Suazo and his co-authors write.

That leaves the team with three questions: "Are our candidates strange young stars whose flux does not vary with time? Are these stars' M-dwarf debris disks with an extreme fractional luminosity? Or something completely different?"

"After analyzing the optical/NIR/MIR photometry of ~5 x 106 sources, we found seven apparent M dwarfs exhibiting an infrared excess of unclear nature that is compatible with our Dyson sphere models," the researchers write in their conclusion.

There are natural explanations for the excess infrared coming from these seven, "But none of them clearly explains such a phenomenon in the candidates, especially given that all are M dwarfs."

The researchers say that follow-up optical spectroscopy would help understand these seven sources better. A better understanding of the H-alpha emissions is especially valuable since they can also come from young disks.

"In particular, analyzing the spectral region around H-alpha can help us ultimately discard or verify the presence of young disks," the researchers write.

"Additional analyses are definitely necessary to unveil the true nature of these sources," they conclude.

More information:Matías Suazo et al, Project Hephaistos – II. Dyson sphere candidates from Gaia DR3, 2MASS, and WISE, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (2024). DOI: 10.1093/mnras/stae1186

Journal information:Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

Provided byUniverse Today

Citation:Astronomers are on the hunt for Dyson spheres (2024, May 10)retrieved 15 June 2024from

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Astronomers are on the hunt for Dyson spheres (2024)


Astronomers are on the hunt for Dyson spheres? ›

Hunting for Dyson spheres

What is the Dyson sphere in astronomy? ›

Scientists say they've found potential evidence. Freeman Dyson theorized that hypothetical alien megastructures would give off infrared radiation and searching for that byproduct would be a viable method for searching for extraterrestrial life.

What is the Dyson sphere theory? ›

Dyson theorized that as the energy requirements of an advanced technological civilization increased, there would come a time when it would need to systematically harvest the energy from its local star on a large scale.

Who came up with the Dyson sphere? ›

The Dyson sphere or Dyson shell is a theoretical megastructure that was first proposed by astronomer Freeman Dyson in 1959. This has been and will remain science fiction for a long time, but is interesting from the perspective of the total limit of energy a society can access.

What stars are best for Dyson spheres? ›

While O-Types are the ideal choice in Dyson Sphere Program gameplay, they're often in short supply in most starting seeds. In this regard, the B-Type Star is easily the second choice given both its abundance and practicality in terms of resource consumption.

What would a Dyson sphere do to Earth? ›

You could build a solid sphere around the sun to catch every last ray. In doing so, you'd have 550 million times more surface area than our whole planet, all catching rays to send back to Mother Earth in the form of raw power.

Could humans build a Dyson sphere? ›

And it is: As an immense, hollow ball, the structure is impossible. “An actual sphere around the sun is completely impractical,” Stuart Armstrong, a research fellow at Oxford University's Future of Humanity Institute who has studied megastructure concepts, tells Popular Mechanics.

How close are we to creating a Dyson sphere? ›

Since building a Dyson Sphere is currently far outside of our technical expertise, one variant of the Dyson Sphere — known as a Dyson Swarm — has been proposed. Think of a Dyson Swarm as a series of small robot solar collectors, mirrors, living habitats, and satellites, orbiting like a net around a star.

How many people could live on a Dyson sphere? ›

Acording to Futuretimeline a type 2 Kardashev society could be achieved around the year 3100 when science is advanced enough to allow the creation of a Dyson Sphere and due to its size it could house many trillions of people perhaps quadrillions of people.

How far away would a Dyson sphere be? ›

The simplest form of Dyson sphere might begin as a ring of solar power collectors, at a distance from a star of, say, 100 million miles. This configuration is sometimes called a Dyson ring.

Why haven t we made a Dyson sphere? ›

The construction of a Dyson Sphere would be an enormous undertaking that would require a vast amount of resources and advanced technology, and would supposedly enable human flourishing on a massive scale. At present, the construction of such a structure is well beyond our technological capabilities.

What type of civilization is the Dyson sphere? ›

A Type II civilization can directly consume a star's energy, most likely through the use of a Dyson sphere. A Type III civilization is able to capture all the energy emitted by its galaxy, and every object within it, such as every star, black hole, etc.

Would a Dyson sphere work on a black hole? ›

So together the accretion disk and jets of a black hole emit enormous amounts of energy. Consequently, a Dyson sphere could power a beyond-Type II civilization, even if it could harvest only a few per cent of the energy.

What is the best sun for a Dyson sphere? ›

Big blue stars with their high luminosity are the best choice for a dyson sphere. Your starting system should always have a yellow star with a luminosity of ~1 and at this point most of your industry is probably there, so for starting out you can make a sphere in that system.

How do you beat Dyson Sphere Program? ›

As the Dyson Sphere is the game's name sake, it is necessary to construct to beat the game. To beat the game, you need to produce several thousand Universe Matrices which are comprised of Electromagnetic Matrices, Energy Matrices, Structure Matrices, Information Matrices, Gravity Matrices, and Antimatter.

Why would we need a Dyson sphere? ›

The concept was first described by physicist Freeman Dyson, imagining a vast array of solar collectors or habitats orbiting around a star, harnessing its energy for technological use2. Harnessing the power of a Dyson sphere could revolutionize human civilization in numerous ways.

Could we detect a Dyson sphere? ›

One group of scientists thinks that we may already have detected technosignatures from a technological civilization's Dyson spheres, but the detection is hidden in our vast troves of astronomical data. A Dyson sphere is a hypothetical engineering project that only highly advanced civilizations could build.

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