RIP Freeman Dyson

He’s like the last of the old guard of WW2 physicists. He rubbed elbows with Einstein and Teller and Oppenheimer and Feynman. Wow.

Not to mention the famous Dyson Sphere.

I imagine most people thought he’d been dead for decades.

I was just reading the article about his life over at Ars Technica, very interesting guy. No doctoral degrees beyond the honorary ones that were given to him.

Wow, I wonder what that cross country road trip with Feynman was like. R.I.P.

Though I know his name, I’m mostly unfamiliar with his work. Anyone care to share some of his writing on science and human destiny?

I don’t know much but that he was a sort of roving intellectual for many decades and conceptualized a lot of stuff that later made it into the sci-fi lexicon.

The famous Dyson Sphere, for example, was not meant to be a giant solid sphere but was rather an expression of the idea that, he believed, a sufficiently advanced civilization would want to utilize as much as possible of the energy output of its star. He imagined a vast “sphere” made of individual artificial satellites that would harvest the solar radiation.

Yeah, an actual full sphere would be unstable unless it had attitude jets. It would be moved by coronal mass ejections. Eventually it would graze the sun and poof.

Larry Niven’s Ringworld suffers from the same issue. (Needing attitude jets.)

A “sufficiently advanced civilization” would probably have fusion reactors and not need solar energy much except for biological needs/agriculture.

Well I think that was Dyson’s idea, unless I hallucinated it.

Yeah, Niven used Dyson’s concept for Ringworld. Shortly after Ringworld was published there was a con where people were, literally, marching around chanting “Ringworld is unstable, Ringworld is unstable.” Niven was there and, even though he intended Ringworld to be a one off, he wrote Ringworld Engineers to correct the issue.

You aren’t thinking big/advanced enough. The energy output of a star is uh, astronomically larger than any terrestrial scale fusion reactors.

Yeah, but the energy is spread out over a much larger area/volume than a fusion device meant to fit inside a structure or vessel. Solar panels are less efficient than current nuclear reactors per square meter, or coal or gas.

Well the concentration depends on how close you can build the swarm. Besides, a civilization that can build on that scale would have lots of options for concentration where needed.

The novel Blindsight had a pretty cool concept for a close in station sending energy quite far out. On a much smaller scale of course.

Also Cowl by Neal Asher.

This one just handwaved the Dyson sphere as the product of an inconceivably advanced civilization, but it’s a fun read all the same.

Any relation to extremely pricey vacuums?

They don’t appear to be. No mention of relation on wikipedia or in various articles on their families.

There is no way we could ever harvest enough hydrogen from the solar system to fuel fusion reactors to match the total energy output of the sun. If we took all the hydrogen in the Earth’s oceans, it would only last a few years.

Solar energy only seems puny when you are not trying to capture all of it.

The sun converts an enormous amount of mass to energy every single second.

I got to meet Mr. Dyson when he spoke at my father’s memorial some years back. He was an extremely impressive person, fairly radiating an aura of clarity and intelligence. The world is really lucky to have such people.

Perhaps he conceptualized it more as an idea for detecting intelligent life in space than for anything we would be likely to build in the foreseeable future.

In the article’s particular case, the aliens would have to have built the sphere in a mere 70 years, which is pretty impressive, but then… they are superintelligent aliens!