February 23rd: Astro-engineering – Dyson Shells, Alderson Disks and Stellar Engines

By on February 23, 2009 in

365DaysDate: February 23, 2009


Title: Astro-engineering – Dyson Shells, Alderson Disks and Stellar Engines

Podcaster: Richard Stelling and Russell Mulligan

Organization: The 2009 Show


Description: Russ and Rich discuss the search for astro-engineering by SETI and others. Will these massive engineering projects seen in modern Si-Fi one day become a reality?

Bio: Richard Stelling and Russell Mulligan have been podcasting since 2003. Their regular fodder is music, films, current affairs and politics. However they both have a keen interest in science and are delighted to have the opportunity to discuss some of the issues that excite them most.

Today’s Sponsor: This episode of “365 Days of Astronomy” is sponsored by the American Association of Variable Star Observers, the world’s leader in variable star data and information, bringing professional and amateur astronomers together to observe and analyze variable stars, and promoting research and education using variable star data. Visit the AAVSO on the web at http://www.aavso.org/


Rich: Welcome to the 356 days of Astronomy podcast for the day 23rd February, 2009.

[musical interlude – 00:00:07]

Rich: So, Russ, on this day in space history 23rd February, 1997. Can you imagine what happened? 1997; Spice Girls, X-Files…

Russ: Halley’s Comet was… 1985…

Rich: Hale Bopp was around at that time.

Russ: Anything to do with Voyager?

Rich: You mean Star Trek Voyager…?

Russ: Yeah, did they release it on DVD?

[musical interlude – 00:00:53]

Rich: Well, there was something shining in space, and it was the Mir Space Station that caught on fire, this day in 1997.

[musical interlude – 00:01:09]

Rich: In today’s podcast we’re going to be talking about Astro-Engineering and it’s impact on man kind. We’re going to step away form the facts and figures that have bogged down all these other podcasts. We’re not interested in facts Russ. We want to theorize about where man kind will be in 200, 500, 1000 years time.

Now, I’ve got a degree in Engineering, but what are your credentials?

Russ: I did the Kessel run in 12 parsecs.

Rich: I think that was Hans Solo.

Russ: I build the first warp drive.

Rich: That was Zefram Cochrane.

Russ: I got 1 Million points on that video game and they took me up into space.

Rich: That was Robert Peston in the Last Star Fighter!

Russ: Remember I was doing those stretches on that camp site and my bra flew off…

Rich: That was Carry On Camping! That’s not even a space film.

[musical interlude – 00:02:27]

Rich: So what everyone is think is, what is astro engineering. Astro engineering is the construction of mega-structures in space. I talking about things that maybe as wide as 2 astronomical units.

Russ: That’s a lot.

Rich: That’s the distance form the earth to the Sun.

Russ: I know that, 93 million miles.

Rich: A Dyson Sphere or as it appeared in the original paper a Dyson shell is a structure at 1 AU for a star that completely encompasses the stat and allows for the capture of all or nearly all or the energy of that star.

Think of a shell around the sun at the the radius of the earth.

[musical interlude – 00:03:49]

Rich: That is a mammoth feet of engineering, it’s bigger than the Death Star.

Russ: [laughs] So was he saying this is the zenith of human achievement, or was he saying that aliens would to this as the height of production.

Rich: I don’t know weather he was saying this was the height of a civilization, but he certainly postulated it would be an advanced civilization who could even muster the resources to build on of these.

Russ: It’s like the old saying, there’s no cave men in space.

[musical interlude – 00:04:57]

Rich: Dyson Shells or Dyson Spheres are used to capture energy but you might of seen them in Si-Fi, they certainly turned up in Star Trek, I know Scotty crashes his shuttle craft into one, and they find him in The Next Generation.

And in that one there is actually an ancient civilization that built it were living on the inside of the shell.

Russ: Very hot?

Rich: Well not if it were the same distance for the earth to the Sun, it would be day all the time, but not too hot to live.

There are other theories, Dyson swarms which oar millions of satellites that swarm over the star and collect all the energy.

Russ: When you say theory are you saying this might be a good idea or this is something out there already.

Rich: Well, certainly there are people looking for these things. But the way Dyson proposed it in his paper it was as a theoretical structure. There are obviously massive technological and social implications.

Russ: What would be the social implications?

Rich: You’d need millions and millions, if not billions, of personnel to create this. A lot more storm troopers are required.

[musical interlude – 00:06:52]

Rich: Before we get onto the construction and discovery of these mega structures. Stellar engines, this is a mega structures that uses the rotation to create usable energy or possible propel it self along, so your using a star as a massive space ship much like the Daleks tried to do in Doctor Who and the Daleks, with Peter Cushing.

My personal pet theory on this is Nano Bots. Because as a species we can’t afford to propel all of the resources into space, all of the metal on the earth would only be a few atoms thin if we wanted to encompass an entire star.

So, put in orbit around a star a small payload of Nano Bots that can feed off the solar winds and heavy metals the hydrogen and oxygen combine them in so some sort of usable material and then start to build the structure.

Russ: Does it have to be made of metal? Essentially it needs to harness radiation, I’m thinking of a smart gas?

Rich: Smart Gasses?

Russ: Yeah. I’ve just invented it. Oh come off it, it’s ok for James Dyson to invent hovers and this big shell but you can’t have smart gases? That doesn’t make sense.

Rich: Coming back to reality and Nano Bots. Conceivably you could program your Nano Bots to create some sort of diamond or graphite structure.

Russ: Surely if your using my smart gas the Astronomers out there are still going to be able to look out there through their telescope and see some stars, you be able to see through the gas. If everyone start whacking up one of these Dyson Spheres the heavens will just go dark. It’s like, “Not round our way, you wont be looking at our star mate, sorry we’ve blocked this one up.”

All I’m saying is it would be a pretty dull celestial vista if everyone started building these Dyson Spheres of yours.

[musical interlude – 00:09:32]

Rich: Thanks for downloading this episode of 365 days of Astronomy podcast, remember an extended version of this show can be downloaded from the 2009 Show page on iTunes and we will be back later in the year discussing Astrobiology.

End of podcast:

365 Days of Astronomy
The 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast is produced by the New Media Working Group of the International Year of Astronomy 2009. Audio post-production by Preston Gibson. Bandwidth donated by libsyn.com and wizzard media. Web design by Clockwork Active Media Systems. You may reproduce and distribute this audio for non-commercial purposes. Please consider supporting the podcast with a few dollars (or Euros!). Visit us on the web at 365DaysOfAstronomy.org or email us at info@365DaysOfAstronomy.org. Until tomorrow…goodbye.

About Richard Stelling & Russell Mulligan

Richard Stelling and Russell Mulligan have been podcasting since 2003. Their regular fodder is music, films, current affairs and politics. However they both have a keen interest in science and are delighted to have the opportunity to discuss some of the issues that excite them most.

Leave a Reply

11 Responses to February 23rd: Astro-engineering – Dyson Shells, Alderson Disks and Stellar Engines

  1. Martin Pinsky February 14, 2011 at 7:32 pm #

    New some astrophysics computations by a grad student– should be a cake wake for a smart kid–am writing a sdi/fi/fact book and want to keep thingsisn scientific order—stuff is futuristic–state of the art PLUS–ET location, speed acceleration–orbital configuration, interception points– optimum orbital distances. etc, all through e-mail, make a few dollars and more if things expand and work vs. this book I am writing– need also tech illustration (.
    There is always one of you brainiacs there that can figure out anything. Might een be an interstellar grad thesis in this for you.


  2. skygeex March 9, 2009 at 5:46 pm #

    To each his own, I suppose. We all knew that the variety of content for this year-long project was going to swing wildly all over the place. I can’t fault ANYone for contributing to this podcast, so all I can rightfully say is “Thanks guys!”

  3. Richard March 9, 2009 at 9:19 am #

    Thanks for all the comments.

    I’d just like to apologise for the sound quality, totally my fault. I will fix it for the show in August.

    Cory, we did do a big bit on Ringworlds but we had to cut it due to time.

    We’ve had mixed feedback, but want to try and improve so any suggestions on areas to discuss next time please let us know. You can follow us on Twitter http://twitter.com/2009Show


  4. Cory Albrecht March 5, 2009 at 6:30 am #

    Oh, and how could I forget?

    What, no mention ringworlds? Chmee is very disappointed! 🙂

  5. Cory Albrecht March 5, 2009 at 6:29 am #

    I don’t mind the theme song – while it’s louder than say the sponsorship intro, it’s still not terribly much louder than speaking voices that have been properly levelled. It’s a touch on the silly side with obvious production values and musical talent in it’s making. I listen every day, so I don’t hear it over and over and over again like Rolf does. 🙂

    While the guitar interludes in this episode were not as well produced as George Hrab’s theme song, it wouldn’t have bothered me had it not been so freaking loud compared to the spoken parts. That it didn’t really divide the episode into segments like one would expect from an interlude, marking different topics (this isn’t radio where you come back from a commercial interlude and carry on the same topic), but that’s a minor quibble.

    I hope the makers of this episode are reading these contents. Their future one will be much better if the only thing they were to do was lower the volume on the guitar interludes, but hopefully they’ll be some actual science into their ramblings.

  6. Rolf March 3, 2009 at 3:22 pm #

    Yeah, the musical interludes were awful, sorry. I also agree with Zork; the intro to every podcast is very drawn out isn’t it? Since I usually listen to few weeks worth of these in a sitting the song starts to get on my nerves after a while.

    I do love this site though and most of the contributors are pretty good. Todays edition was especially great 🙂

  7. AstroGeek February 25, 2009 at 10:28 pm #

    Eh, I don’t know about you guys, but my sides hurt from laughing. I really enjoyed this one.

  8. ZorkFox February 25, 2009 at 3:53 am #

    This seems like a good time to note that I dislike the too long, too loud intro to every podcast. I like the dedication/sponsorship stuff—Pamela is easy to listen to!—but the noodling guitar song grates the nerves and I do my best to skip it every time.

    The added guitar stuff in this episode was like having my ears punched every three minutes, and I don’t even listen with headphones like poor Cory above. 🙁

    I bet there are a lot of people out there who would love to get some exposure for their music by offering it to the podcast. Barring that, there is a lot of royalty-free music available. Astronomy can be hip and fun without a rock-‘n’-roll riff.

    Just so you know, I’m not dissatisfied with the whole enchilada, I’m just trying to provide feedback. 😀

  9. michael February 24, 2009 at 10:17 pm #

    Thanks for your comment!

    It’s certainly a show unlike we’ve heard so far. 😉 I found it to be rather funny. We know all shows won’t appeal to all listeners and some, I suspect, will put this one in that category. Others will not. There is always tomorrow!

  10. Cory Albrecht February 24, 2009 at 3:59 pm #

    I’m sorry, but the was the worst podcast of 365DoA so far. Was it made by a couple of university students who had had too much weed one evening? I didn’t detect any astronomical or cosmological sciences in this podcast at all. Just two guys aimlessly rambling on about barely hypothetical structures that humanity won’t be able to make for tens of thousands of years, if ever.

    And that guitar, oh my ears. In addition to feeling like I was having a tooth pulled each time the guitar played, I was nearly deafened by its volume while I was listening to the podcast on the bus, having had to turn up the volume for the spoken parts. Did nobody post-process the file for more consistent volume gain?

    I am not looking forward to the future podcast these two say they will do.