Jul 25, 2016

Making Jupiter into a Star

Posted by in categories: alien life, entertainment, nuclear energy


The SETI concepts now called ‘Dysonian’ are to my mind some of the most exhilarating ideas in the field. Dysonian SETI gets its name from the ‘Dyson spheres’ and ‘Dyson swarms’ analyzed by Freeman Dyson in a 1960 paper. This is a technology that an advanced civilization might use to harvest the energy of its star. You can see how this plays off Nikolai Kardashev’s classification of civilizations; Kardashev suggested that energy use is a way to describe civilizations at the broadest level. A Type II society is one that can use all the energy of its star.

In the film 2010, director Peter Hyams’ 1984 adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke’s novel 2010: Odyssey Two (Del Rey, 1982), we see an instance of this kind of technology at work, though it has nothing to do with a Dyson sphere. In the film, a dark patch appearing on Jupiter signals the onset of what Martyn Fogg has called ‘stellification,’ the conversion of a gas giant into a small star. Rapidly replicating von Neumann machines — the famous monoliths — increase Jupiter’s density enroute to triggering nuclear fusion.

A new star is born, with consequences entertainingly explored in the novel’s epilogue. Without monoliths to work with, Fogg described another way of triggering a gas giant’s fusion reaction in a 1989 paper. A small black hole could be put into orbit around the planet, its orbit gradually sinking toward the planetary center. Accretion will eventually cause the new star to shine like a red dwarf, its brightness steadily increasing over a 50 million year period. Parts of the Jovian satellite system could be rendered continuously habitable over a period of about 100 million years, even as the star-builders exploit its energies via orbiting power stations.

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