In science fiction, we observe all kinds of space structures that allow our imagination to wonder about some amazing feats of engineering. The Dyson sphere is definitely one of them. This hypothetical megastructure was first described by Olaf Stapledon, in his book Star Maker, which was published in 1937. He describes a solar system surrounded by a haze of light traps that captures solar energy for the use of an intelligent spacefaring civilization. This concept was then popularized by the American physician and mathematician Freeman Dyson. In a paper he published in 1960 titled “Search for Artificial Stellar Sources of Infrared Radiation”, Dyson formulated that it would be the logical evolution of the ever-growing energy demand of an advanced technological civilization. There are different kinds of Dyson spheres, depending on the energy output needed and the engineering capability of civilization.
The Dyson Swarm
Like the name indicates this is not really a structure but more a swarm of little individual structure that orbit the star each collecting stellar energy via a system of solar panels or sails. They could be arranged in a ring-like formation and when more energy would be needed, a second ring could be added. They eventually could add as many rings as needed as long as they choose a different orbit. On inconvenient would be that the orbits would intersect obscuring the ring behind where the rings cross. Overall it would be feasible to realize even by our own civilization, for example, Elon Musk is already sending a swarm of satellites in orbit to provide some wi-fi internet all around the globe.
The Dyson Ring
One step further in engineering and construction proficiency would be a gigantic ring structure surrounding the star. That structure would capture the energy of the star and it would be possible to merge more than one ring together to augment the size of the area capturing the energy. In addition, a structure that size would harbor some living quarters, some hangar for maintenance probes or spaceships and some industrial manufacturing plants to produce parts for the structure. This scenario is much more difficult to accomplish and would require a civilization much more advanced than ours.
The Dyson Sphere
The complete Dyson sphere would be the hardest to accomplish and the most advance structure. It would require an astronomical amount of materials and perhaps harvest entire planets in the star system to be able to construct such a structure. It’s possible that they would start by building a ring, then adding additional rings with time and finally filling the gaps with some solar arrays to be able to harvest all the energy they can possibly use. This kind of civilization would present such a technological evolution that it would have attained what we call a type two civilization, which means that they are able to control an entire star system. In comparison, we humans are not even a type one civilization because a type one civilization as gained control over their entire planet, which we are far from.
To conclude, the Dyson sphere is an extremely interesting idea that is still hypothetical but that one day we may discover around a distant star system. We don’t know what the future will bring us, maybe one day, we will start the construction of such a structure.