If intelligent extraterrestrial life is out there — and everyone and their brother seems to think so now — it could be as hypothetical as a few billion years from now.
In the ongoing search for techno signatures — the sexy new moniker given to the pursuit of large-scale alien astro-engineering projects, Dyson’s hypothetical sphere would harness the energy of a particular star in ways we can only imagine. First proposed by the late British-American physicist Freeman Dyson, such fields would hypothetically be used to power massive supercomputers, artificial habitats, propel spacecraft, or advanced interstellar communications.
If one Swedish astrologer is right, intelligent aliens might not even choose to harness energy from the star they live around. Since about 75 percent of the stars in the Milky Way are M-type dwarfs, ET could be harnessing the energy of one of these tiny stars even as we speak.
To learn more during a recent visit to Stockholm, Erik Zackrisson, an astrologer at Sweden’s Uppsala University, sat down with me to discuss his latest thoughts on the subject.
Currently, Zackrisson and one of his doctoral students are studying the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Gaia constellation catalog as well as stellar infrared catalogs to search for Dyson sphere candidates.
Zackrisson and Uppsala University doctoral student Matias Suazo are submitting a journal paper to Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (MNRAS). They started with 5 million of the nearest stars and have now identified about 10 faint red stars as potential candidates for sustaining Dyson fields. None are famous objects. But the next paper will detail follow-up observations of these candidate stars.
Why Might Aliens Choose to Benefit from a Red Dwarf?
The first reason is that they have estimated lifetimes that range from tens of billions to tens of trillions of years. Therefore, they represent a source of energy that could greatly exceed the age of the universe.
They could take advantage of a red dwarf just because it was nearby, Zackrisson told me.
How Do You Check Your Dyson Spheres?
They would appear dim in the optical and bright in the infrared; That’s the first prize Zackrisson says. The problem is that natural astronomical objects behave that way too, he says. The most common type is a young star because they are embedded in dust that glows in the infrared and blocks some fraction of the star on optical light, he says.
Some people argue that the aliens would be so advanced that they wouldn’t waste anything, Zackrisson says. But as we understand the laws of thermodynamics, when you convert one form of energy into another, you always have a waste product, he says. A Dyson sphere would have to get rid of this energy waste somehow, says Zackrisson. And the most natural way for this to happen is through blackbody radiation (thermal emission of heat in the infrared), he says.
What is the most difficult aspect of creating a Dyson sphere sensor?
This is the problem with Dyson spheres; you’re looking for outliers in astronomical data, says Zackrisson. It’s very hard to convince yourself that it’s a Dyson sphere, or just some big astrophysics we haven’t really seen before, he says.
The Dyson sphere radiates as a pure continuum in the infrared; in other words, there would be no peaks in his spectrum.
If you have access to NASA’s Webb Space Telescope, you could get a spectrum in the infrared to see if there are peaks, Zackrisson says. If there are horns, you can just dismiss it as dust, he says.
Design a Search That Benefits Astrology, No Matter the Result
If you’re not detecting Dyson fields, or database glitches, you’re at least detecting the big astrophysics and so astronomy will benefit, says Zackrisson. It’s cheap and easy to do this research with existing databases, but it’s very time-consuming, he says.
You want AI to basically do most of the trimming of your sample, so you don’t need to look at so many candidates yourself, says Zackrisson. This can be a slow process, but we don’t have to do it all at once, he says.