The Dyson Swarm: Humanity’s Future?

With humanity getting closer to conquering the limits of technology and survival on Earth, the Dyson swarm provides us with a potential future in which...

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Since the beginning of civilization, humanity has always strived to advance to the next level. From the development of irrigation systems to the creation of artificial intelligence, we’ve always been at work trying to make our lives as efficient and our tools as advanced as possible. Yet we may very well come to a point where the energy available on Earth (whether derived from fossil fuels or alternative sources) is simply not enough to meet human needs. This is where the idea of the Dyson swarm comes into play.

The Dyson swarm is a derivative of the Dyson sphere, a conceptual megastructure first theorized by Freeman Dyson. The idea of the Dyson sphere involves the large-scale collection of solar energy for human use through the construction of a massive megastructure around the Sun, built with energy-absorbing materials. The Dyson sphere, however, would not be the optimal way to capture a star’s energy due to the exorbitantly high cost of creating a mostly solid sphere around the Sun—a project most likely too expensive for the resources of all nations on Earth, let alone any one country. The Dyson swarm is more plausible, as it would essentially involve individual solar panels surrounding the Sun and absorbing its light energy into solar collectors for practical use. Furthermore, this would minimize the amount of materials needed and provide a more stable structure than a project like the Dyson sphere.

The primary benefit of building the Dyson swarm is that it would provide an enormous amount of energy compared to what we as a species produce annually. According to Ibrahim Semiz and Salim Ogur, who work at the Department of Physics at a Turkish university, “[The Dyson swarm] would receive all the power of the Sun, 3.8 × 1026 W, in contrast to the power intercepted by Earth, 1.7 × 1017 W.” Fundamentally, the Dyson swarm would provide us with a critical source of energy that would neither harm our environment nor run out for the foreseeable future.

A paper published by Stuart Armstrong and Anders Sandberg goes into the specifics on how to accomplish building the Dyson swarm. Their idea is to acquire the materials from the metal-rich planet Mercury to produce the solar panels and collectors by building a planetary base there. Then, an automated process would send the finished parts to orbit the Sun to be assembled later in space.

The energy needed to start the process could continuously be supplemented by using the Sun's energy at Mercury through these solar panels. As a result, the creation of the solar panels would exponentially increase, as each one would power the automation process to create another, then the two would power two more, and within a mere decade, we would be able to encircle our entire star with solar panels. If we are able to construct the Dyson swarm, it would launch us to a Type II civilization: a society that can control a star’s energy. This is part of the Kardashev scale, which was created by Nikolai Kardashev to measure a civilization’s level of scientific advancement in terms of energy. As of right now, we are at Type I civilization, and the Dyson swarm brings the potential of going into Type II. With the Dyson swarm, we could easily power the energy needed to travel to other planets, and the time it takes for new technological developments and ideas to be made would lessen with an essentially infinite power source.

There are several drawbacks and obstacles to the creation of the Dyson swarm: the possible disagreements and conflicts between countries due to political issues that would distract us from construction and the amount of technical innovation from automation needed to complete the process. The project may well take centuries to complete, which brings the possibility that the project may never be started. However, if in the future we were to work together as human beings striving to advance our species, then the Dyson swarm would be an efficient way of jump-starting it. The potential benefits of building the Dyson swarm would pave the way for expansion toward other planets in the solar system and allow for more technological innovation, turning what is now science fiction into reality.