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Space Science

Mysteriously Variable Star Causes Speculation About Dyson Sphere (slate.com) 339

gurps_npc writes: Phil Plait just wrote an interesting article about a star that is extremely variable. We generally look for cyclical, minute (1%) variations in star light to detect planets. But we found one that has a variation in starlight of over 20%. We don't have a very good explanation for this, and some people are speculating that such variation could be caused by a civilization building a Dyson Sphere around the star. From the article: "Such a sphere would be dark in visible light, but emit a lot of infrared. People have looked for them, but we've never seen one (obviously). Which brings us back to KIC 8462852 (PDF). What if we caught an advanced alien civilization in the process of building such an artifact? Huge panels (or clusters of them) hundreds of thousands of kilometers across, and oddly-shaped, could produce the dips we see in that star's light." Plait says it's overwhelmingly unlikely, but interesting nonetheless.
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Mysteriously Variable Star Causes Speculation About Dyson Sphere

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @11:18AM (#50726179)
    It's important to note that the actual scientists studying the star aren't the ones screaming "ALIENS!" - that's the journalists who misreport and distort things to make them "sell better".
    • by quantaman ( 517394 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @11:40AM (#50726473)

      It's important to note that the actual scientists studying the star aren't the ones screaming "ALIENS!" - that's the journalists who misreport and distort things to make them "sell better".

      Actually these are the actual scientists studying the star, they aren't screaming aliens but they do seem to be saying something like "we can't figure out how to model this with any natural phenomena so lets see if non-natural hypothesis fit".

      FTA:

      When I spoke to Boyajian on the phone, she explained that her recent paper only reviews “natural” scenarios. “But,” she said, there were “other scenarios” she was considering.
      Jason Wright, an astronomer from Penn State University, is set to publish an alternative interpretation of the light pattern. SETI researchers have long suggested that we might be able to detect distant extraterrestrial civilizations, by looking for enormous technological artifacts orbiting other stars. Wright and his co-authors say the unusual star’s light pattern is consistent with a “swarm of megastructures,” perhaps stellar-light collectors, technology designed to catch energy from the star.

      [...]
      Boyajian is now working with Wright and Andrew Siemion, the Director of the SETI Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley. The three of them are writing up a proposal. They want to point a massive radio dish at the unusual star, to see if it emits radio waves at frequencies associated with technological activity.

  • by RumGunner ( 457733 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @11:19AM (#50726207) Homepage

    ...but still fun to wildly speculate about.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I don't care about this. I just need to know if it will still vacuum efficiently.

    • by no1nose ( 993082 )

      They never lose suction.

      I was wondering if it would be unbearably hot inside on of these hypothetical spheres. How would the heat dissipate?

      • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) *

        How would the heat dissipate?

        You turn it into other things like kinetic energy, electricity, etc. Of course it all wants to go back to heat eventually, which is why in theory Dyson spheres still emit infrared. Which you allow to bleed off into space. But not before making all that energy work for you first. Kind of like a dam. You do realize that a dam doesn't completely block a river, right? Unless of course you want the river to flow over and around your dam...

  • Oh dear god..... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @11:31AM (#50726355) Homepage

    How about a more sane and more plausible... larger brown dwarf twin?

    Nahh, let's go with a civilization that has harvested all the planets from other solar systems near them for resources to start building a dyson sphere....

    • Re:Oh dear god..... (Score:4, Informative)

      by dmgxmichael ( 1219692 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @11:44AM (#50726513) Homepage
      Jupiter seems to be at a curious point between being a planet and a star. Planets don't get much bigger, by volume, than Jupiter - they just start getting denser and denser until nuclear fusion begins. A brown dwarf an order of magnitude more massive than Jupiter would still be roughly the same size - so no, it's not a brown dwarf. Stars outright can be considerably smaller than the sun.
      • Re:Oh dear god..... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @01:04PM (#50727369)

        What he said.

        From TFA, we're talking something that occults 20% of the visible area of the star in question. That something would have to ~40% of the diameter of the star in question to do that. So, for a Sol-sized star, we're talking 300,000km in diameter.

        No, we're not going to be finding any natural objects that size that aren't emitting light themselves.

    • Nahh, let's go with a civilization that has harvested all the planets from other solar systems near them for resources to start building a dyson sphere....

      If you have a normal amount of planetary material there is no need to harvest materials from other solar systems in order to build a dyson sphere. That would be a far more monumental task.

      • You are bad in math, are you? Or only bad in estimations?

        If we gather all material of our solar system I doubt we would be able to make a reasonable sized Dyson Sphere which is a single atom thick.

        With reasonable sized I mean: slightly larger than earth orbit. Obviously we want a larger one, and the surface squales with the square of the radius. Theat means if we want to include Mars into the sphere (60% farer away) we need ~40% more material.

        A reasonable distance would likely be beyond Saturn ...

        Keep in mi

        • Hmmm ... moving huge quantities of material from your own solar system is an absolutely enormous scale.

          How much energy and engineering is going to be required to move the stuff from another entire solar system? I believe when GP says "That would be a far more monumental task", it's both an understatement and an indication of just how crazy it would be.

          Honestly, since the math for building a Dyson sphere is well and truly beyond me ... if you can go to another solar system and bring back the stuff you need

        • Re:Oh dear god..... (Score:5, Informative)

          by blue9steel ( 2758287 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @12:44PM (#50727175)

          You are bad in math, are you? Or only bad in estimations?

          The calculations have already been done, here is a quote from wikipedia "estimates that there is 1.82×1026 kg of easily usable building material in the Solar System, enough for a 1-AU shell with a mass of 600 kg/m2—about 8–20 cm thick on average, depending on the density of the material." Of course there are some debates as to whether that is sufficiently thick. Regardless of thickness there are a variety of design problems with the solid shell version and that's not what Dyson was actually proposing. A Dyson swarm or Niven ring would be much more practical.

        • <blockquote>If we gather all material of our solar system I doubt we would be able to make a reasonable sized Dyson Sphere which is a single atom thick.</blockquote>

          I didn't know atoms were so big. As a back-of-envelope thing, I worked out the area of a sphere around one A.U. in radius. It's around 108686793600000000 square miles (I live in the U.S., so sue me). The volume of the earth, assuming a radius of 4000 miles, is around 268083199987 cubic miles. Now, if we divide that by the area, w
        • Re:Oh dear god..... (Score:4, Interesting)

          by ChromaticDragon ( 1034458 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @01:24PM (#50727593)

          The mass of a Dyson Sphere of carbon with a radius equal to the orbit of Ceres that is 1 millimeter thick turns out to be...

          drumroll...

          slightly less than the mass of Earth.

          And that's using the density of solid carbon. You could probably get a sphere out past Saturn's radius switching to a fancy aerogel or something.

          And with "all material of our solar system" at "one atom thick"...

          With that we'd get a Dyson sphere with radius a third the way to Alpha Centauri.

          Ummm... about that remark of estimatory prowess...

    • Re:Oh dear god..... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by pz ( 113803 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @12:23PM (#50726943) Journal

      How about a more sane and more plausible... larger brown dwarf twin?

      The signal is highly aperiodic (read the article), so a brown dwarf won't be a good explanation. I'd expect a protoplanetary disk would be a more reasonable explanation than a brown dwarf, but then there's the problem with the missing IR. It could be a trinary system with lots of occlusions from our perspective (which would mean that the stars would all be very close together). This star is just ... odd, no matter what the explanation ends up being.

      What we need is a set of extra-terrestrial telescopes flying in precise formation so that we can do 100,000 km baseline interferometry and get the sort of resolution to see detail like that.

  • This star believed to have large amounts of dust remains of broken up comets orbiting it with high eccentricity (very elliptical as opposed to more circular). Yawn.

    The alternative is so much more exciting, provocative, brain invigorating: "Now I'm not saying it was mega-engineering by aliens, BUT IT WAS MEGA..."

  • Except... (Score:4, Funny)

    by slashmydots ( 2189826 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @11:46AM (#50726533)
    Except that it's lots of lightyears away which means it would have been lots of years ago which means....OMG THEY'RE ON THEIR WAY HERE, RUN!
  • by orlanz ( 882574 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @11:48AM (#50726569)

    While we "watch" them build their sphere, they would have already completed it, detected us using their advanced long range sensors, and used their FTL armada of battleships to come destroy us. Since we are still here, that is a NOT a Dyson sphere.

    • by sshir ( 623215 )
      What if that armada is causing the whole blinking effect? Like it's on the straight path from their star to ours, we and they are jittering a bit. Boom! An explanation! :)
    • Earth has only been broadcasting since the early 20th century. At 1500 LY away, they're still seeing light/etc from Earth around the end of the Roman Empire. Excluding the possibility of some sort of sensor/communication system that defies relativity, any aliens there won't see us until around 3420 AD our time. A response wouldn't be able to arrive until 5000AD or later, probably much more if they were trying to send actual ships.

      At this point, only star systems within 100LY of Sol are the ones we would
  • If an alien civilization had the means to build a Dyson sphere, why would they want to do it? By definition, they would also have to have the ability to assemble or disassemble large planets and to make them inhabitable and should be able to make as many planets as they needed.
    • Planets are inefficient at providing living space.

    • The original purpose, as described in the Bad Astronomy link, is that Dyson proposed this for generating power, not living space:

      Look at our own civilization. We consume ever-increasing amounts of power, and are always looking for bigger sources. Fossil, nuclear, solar, wind Decades ago, physicist Freeman Dyson popularized an interesting idea: What if we built thousands of gigantic solar panels, kilometers across, and put them in orbit around the Sun? They’d capture sunlight, convert it to energy, and that could be beamed to Earth for our use. Need more power? Build more panels! An advanced civilization could eventually build millions, billions of them.

  • by GuB-42 ( 2483988 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @12:00PM (#50726705)

    We always imagine great things at the slightest anomaly, only to find the boring truth later.
    Maybe it is just Jesus playing with a dimmer switch. Kids like to play with dad's things you know.

  • The Bad Astronomy link contains a few fanciful notions. Specifically, Phil Plait says:

    [yada, yada, yada, ...] That’s the whole basis of SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (see the movie Contact, or better yet read the book, for more on this).

    Read a book? With words and stuff? Talk about science fiction. :-)

  • This is just proof of how anything that has the word "Dyson" makes the news.
    http://www.abbysguide.com/vacu... [abbysguide.com]

  • Cuz really, there is a lot of bat-shit crazy speculation going on in the interweebz.
  • By the time a civilization's technology evolves to the point that it could build a Dyson sphere, it won't have to.
  • by Tony Isaac ( 1301187 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @01:35PM (#50727683) Homepage

    If you've ever watched Star Trek, you know that every strange phenomenon is an indication that the nebula, or asteroid belt, or whatever...is actually a living, sentient being. Maybe THAT'S what's going on here!

  • Interstellar debris? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by wronkiew ( 529338 ) <wronkiew@protonmail.ch> on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @01:42PM (#50727761)

    How is it that Plait says no excess infrared means it isn't dust clouds and unlikely comets, but then he turns around and suggests Dyson sphere? One of the defining characteristics of Dyson spheres is excess infrared.

    Here is a hypothesis that fits the data gathered so far: interstellar debris. It can be oddly shaped. It can block the star's light without generating excess infrared. A cloud of it passing between Earth and KIC 8462852 would produce non-periodic luminosity variations. If the debris was a light year away from Earth, the largest chunk would have a diameter of around 500 km. There would be no constraints due to orbital velocity, and no aliens.

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