Advanced Civilizations Could be Using Dyson Spheres to Collect Unimaginable Energy From Black Holes

Dyson Sphere

Illustration of a partial Dyson sphere around a star.

Black holes are more than just massive objects that swallow everything around them – they’re also one of the universe’s biggest and most stable energy sources.  That would make them invaluable to the type of civilization that needs huge amounts of power, such as a Type II Kardashev civilization.  But to harness all of that power, the civilization would have to encircle the entire black hole with something that could capture the power it is emitting. 

One potential solution would be a Dyson sphere – a type of stellar mega engineering project that encapsulates an entire star (or, in this case, a black hole) in an artificial sheath that captures all of the energy the object at its center emits.  But even if it was able to capture all of the energy the black hole emits, the sphere itself would still suffer from heat loss.  And that heat loss would make it visible to us, according to new research published by an international team led by researchers at the National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan. 

Obviously, no such structure has yet been detected. Still, the paper proves that it is possible to do so, despite no visible light making it past the sphere’s surface and a black hole’s reputation for being light sinks rather than light sources. To understand how we would detect such a system, first, it would be helpful to understand what that system would be designed to do.

The authors study six different energy sources that a potential Dyson sphere could collect around a black hole.  They are the omnipresent Cosmic Microwave Background radiation (which would be washing over the sphere no matter where it was placed), the black hole’s Hawking radiation, its accretion disk, its Bondi accretion, its corona, and its relativistic jets

Jets of Plasma Centaurus A

Composite image of Centaurus A, showing the jets emerging from the galaxy’s central black hole, together with the associated gamma radiation. Credit: © ESO/WFI (Optical); MPIfR/ESO/APEX/A.Weiss et al. (Submillimetre); NASA/CXC/CfA/R.Kraft et al. (X-ray), H.E.S.S. collaboration (Gamma)

Some of these energy sources are much more high-powered than others, with the energy from the black hole’s accretion disk leading the pack in terms of potential energy captures. Other types of energy would require completely different engineering challenges, such as capturing the kinetic energy of the relativistic jets that shoot out from the black hole’s poles. Size obviously plays a large factor in how much energy these black holes emit. The authors primarily focus on stellar-mass black holes as a good point of comparison against other potential energy sources. At that size, the accretion disk alone would provide hundreds of times the energy output of a main-sequence star.

It would be impossible to build a Dyson sphere around any object that size with current known materials. But the type of civilization that would be interested in taking on such an engineering challenge would most likely have much stronger materials than we do today. Alternatively, they could work with known materials to create a Dyson Swarm or Dyson Bubble, which doesn’t require as much material strength but does lose some of the energy that a complete sphere would capture, and adds multiple layers of complexity when coordinating orbital paths and other factors. Any such structure would have to be outside the accretion disk to get the full benefit from the energy the black hole emits.

Even a single sphere around a single stellar-mass black hole would be enough to push any civilization that created it into Type II territory, giving it a level of power output unimaginable with current technology. But even such a potent civilization most likely won’t be able to bend the laws of physics.  No matter the power level, some of it will be lost to heat.  

To astronomers, heat is simply another form of light – infrared, to be exact.  And according to the researchers, the heat emitted by a Dyson sphere around a black hole should be detectable by our current crop of telescopes, such as the Wide Field Infrared Survey Explorer and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, to a distance of about 10kpc at least.  That’s about 1/3 of the distance across the entire Milky Way. No matter how close they were, they wouldn’t appear like traditional stars but could be detectable using the radial velocity method commonly used to find exoplanets.  

Sloan Digital Sky Survey

Sloan Digital Sky Survey, one of the telescopes that could find a potential Dyson sphere around a black hole. Credit: SDSS Team, Fermilab Visual Media Services

While this is useful theoretical work, there certainly hasn’t been any evidence of any such structure existing yet – Fermi’s Paradox still holds.  But given all the data that we’re already collecting these telescopes, it might be interesting to scan through them one more time to check if there happens to be heat emanating from a place where it wouldn’t be expected.  It would be worth the time to at least look for what could be such a fundamentally ground-breaking discovery.

Originally published on Universe Today.

Reference: “A Dyson Sphere around a black hole” by Tiger Yu-Yang Hsiao, Tomotsugu Goto, Tetsuya Hashimoto, Daryl Joe D. Santos, Alvina Y. L. On, Ece Kilerci-Eser, Yi Hang Valerie Wong, Seong Jin Kim, Cossas K.-W. Wu, Simon C.-C. Ho and Ting-Yi Lu, 29 June 2021, Astrophysics > High Energy Astrophysical Phenomena.
arXiv: 2106.15181

25 Comments on "Advanced Civilizations Could be Using Dyson Spheres to Collect Unimaginable Energy From Black Holes"

  1. Honestly. Do people need Space spelled out to them in such nonsensical little dribbles?

  2. When science fiction won’t suffice, there’s mega-science fiction. Because we can’t escape our own planet’s influence much less travel deep into space (or anywhere for that matter.)

  3. Does anyone want to bet that pigs could learn to fly first?

    • Probably.

      A Dyson Sphere around a star makes more sense from an energy gathering perspective. Even so, the mass of a Dyson Sphere would be beyond enormous.

      For example, a Dyson Sphere just 1 inch thick at the distance from the Earth to the sun would have a total physical volume of almost 2 trillion cubic miles, or more than 6 times the total volume of the Earth.

  4. Babu G. Ranganathan | August 29, 2021 at 10:38 am | Reply

    Babu G. Ranganathan*
    (B.A. Bible/Biology)

    ALIEN BEINGS, even if they do exist, could not have evolved. How could they have survived millions of years while the very biological structures, organs, and systems necessary for their survival were supposedly still evolving? Life, in any form (even a single-celled organism), must be complete, fully integrated, and fully-functioning from the very start to be fit for survival.

    CATCH-22 FOR EVOLUTIONARY ORIGIN OF LIFE

    Just having the right materials, elements, and conditions do not mean that life can arise by chance.

    Miller, in his famous experiment in 1953 showed that individual amino acids (the building blocks of life) could come into existence by chance. But, it’s not enough just to have amino acids. The various amino acids that make-up life must link together in a precise sequence, just like the letters in a sentence, to form functioning protein molecules. If they’re not in the right sequence the protein molecules won’t work. It has never been shown that various amino acids can bind together into a sequence by chance to form protein molecules. Even the simplest cell is made up of many millions of various protein molecules.

    RNA and DNA are made up of molecules (nucleic acids) that must also exist in the right sequence. Furthermore, none of these sequential molecules, proteins, DNA, RNA, can function outside of a complete and living cell and all are mutually dependent on one another. One cannot come into existence without the other.

    Mathematicians have said any event in the universe with odds of 10 to 50th power or greater is impossible! The probability of just a single average size protein molecule arising by chance is 10 to the 65th power. The late great British scientist Sir Frederick Hoyle calculated that the odds of even the simplest cell coming into existence by chance is 10 to the 40,000th power! How large is this? Consider that the total number of atoms in our universe is 10 to the 82nd power.

    The cell could not have evolved. A partially evolved cell would quickly disintegrate under the effects of random forces of the environment, especially without the protection of a complete and fully functioning cell membrane. A partially evolved cell cannot wait millions of years for chance to make it complete and living! In fact, it couldn’t have even reached the partially evolved state.

    Alien beings, even if they do exist, could not have evolved. How could they have survived millions of years while the very biological structures, organs, and systems necessary for their survival were supposedly still evolving? Life, in any form (even a single-celled organism), must be complete, fully integrated, and fully-functioning from the very start to be fit for survival.

    Of course, once there is a complete and living cell then the code and mechanisms exist to direct the formation of more cells. The problem for evolutionists is how did the cell originate when there were no directing code and mechanisms in nature. Natural laws may explain how a cell or airplane works but mere undirected natural laws could not have brought about the existence of either.

    What about synthetic life? Scientists didn’t create life itself. What they’ve done is, by using intelligent design and sophisticated technology, scientists built DNA code from scratch and then they implanted that man-made DNA into an already existing living cell and alter that cell. That’s what synthetic life is.

    Through genetic engineering scientists have been able to produce new forms of life by altering already existing forms of life, but they have never created life from non-living matter. Even if they do, it won’t be by chance but by intelligent design. That doesn’t help the theory of evolution.

    What about natural selection? Natural selection doesn’t create or produce anything. It can only “select” from biological variations that are possible and which have survival value. If a variation occurs that helps a species survive, that survival is called ” natural selection.” It’s a passive process. There’s no conscious selection by nature, and natural selection only operates in nature once there is life and reproduction and not before, so it would not be of assistance to the origin of life.

    Science can’t prove we’re here by chance or design. Neither was observed. Both are positions of faith. The issue is which faith is best supported by science. Let the scientific arguments of both sides be presented.

    What many don’t realize is that although oxygen is necessary for life’s processes, the presence of oxygen would prevent life from coming into being. This is because oxygen is destructive unless there are mechanisms already in place to control, direct, and regulate it, such as what we find in already existing forms of life.

    Read my popular Internet articles:

    SCIENCE AND THE ORIGIN OF LIFE
    ANY LIFE ON MARS CAME FROM EARTH

    Visit my Internet site: THE SCIENCE SUPPORTING CREATION

    Author of the popular Internet article, TRADITIONAL DOCTRINE OF HELL EVOLVED FROM GREEK ROOTS

    *I have given successful lectures (with question and answer period afterwards) defending creation before evolutionist science faculty and students at various colleges and universities. I’ve been privileged to be recognized in the 24th edition of Marquis “Who’s Who in The East” for my writings on religion and science.

    • So they got Internet in the Dayroom.

      I knew it was a bad idea.

    • I loved your logical argument on the chances of life evolving spontaneously/randomly by simple chemical assimilation and chance. If you also consider and believe in natural selection, the chances of an intelligent life form evolving with all the requisite limbs necessary to be able to move on land, form complex social networks (societies), and design and manipulate complex tools the chances are nearly nonexistent. The existence of the human race is statistically extremely unique and improbable when one considers how many different life form lineages have existed and perished on earth since life evolved. The chances of humans evolving, developing the ability to think abstractly, develop “civilized” societies, have creative thought processes and to create and use tools because of our opposable thumbs is nearly nonexistent. No other of the millions of prior and existing lifeforms on this planet have even come close to being able to possess the attributes that have allowed humans to develop and thrive in spite of our predisposition to want to follow
      our base animal insticts of jealousy and greed. We have survived and flourished despite the odds against us for doing so. Any other potential life supporting planet would naturally present similar odds of intelligent life evolving and thriving. One must also consider the age of the star around which a planet revolves, and other natural disasters such as extinction events, the evolution of some form of base plant life to evolve and form a breathable atmosphere, and the existence of water and the necessary multitudes of other life forms necessary to establish an ecosystem that can support a late developing sentient lifeform. The odds of all of these contributing factors happening is close to zero. When one considers everything else that hasn’t been identified that is necessary for intelligent life to develop, the odds are staggeringly infinitesimal. When one considers the reality of chance, we may well be the only intelligent lifeform in the universe.

    • Erin E Dobrinen | August 30, 2021 at 8:45 am | Reply

      Your concept of chance neglects to recognize that some molecules stabilize as the grow more complicated. Chance as you picture it is not sufficient for evolution- no wonder you can’t believe in it if you don’t have a good grasp of molecular interactions.

      • Dobrinen, the issue isn’t the probability of some form of life developing. I propose that that is entirely possible. Intelligent life forms with the ability to develop a functioning, constantly developing civilization with the capability of advanced technology are far less likely. The conditions for that to occur requires a nearly perfect stable and safe environment. Case in point, the dinosaurs were around for millions of years but never evolved the intelligence to be able to outgrow their basic animal instincts. Had they not been wiped out by a mass extinction event humans would never have had the opportunity to evolve. That is only one element of chance.

  5. Dyson sphere’s are one of the dumbest ideas I’ve ever seen related to “science”, they just fall apart with basic scrutiny, even for an “advanced” civilisation to consider having.

    We’re running out of energy, we need the energy of a black hole to build a Dyson sphere around the black hole to farm the energy so we can build a Dyson sphere around a black hole! what about the gravitational pull, but advanced ali3ns!

    How much material do we need to build this?? all the planets in the solar system should do it, and the energy of a couple of suns.

    It’s not an engineering challenge for a far advanced culture, it’s just a dumb idea, that advanced culture is probably rocking around in alien cars on solar friggin’ roadways too.

    Let’s not promote this idea with a “god of the gaps” fallacy of arguing the point.

    • I agree, pure fantasy. The logistics, resources, scope and time required to accomplish something of this scale is impossible. Sci-fi stuff. Totally implausible.

  6. I think somebody mixed their Penrose with their Dyson. There’s still some room for a little Alderson or Birch in there if you want to sell some condos.

  7. Mark Anderson | August 29, 2021 at 4:00 pm | Reply

    Several of those pigs you speak off just went into space,so they can fly.

  8. Mark Anderson | August 29, 2021 at 4:03 pm | Reply

    Babu you are a baboon, you are dealing in primate stuff.

  9. Mark Anderson | August 29, 2021 at 4:07 pm | Reply

    Pecic, I’m glad you are the only intelligence in the universe.

  10. No Dyson spheres. They are a science fiction imagining. If advanced alien races wanted to draw power from stars or black holes they could probably fashion something the size of a dinner plate to do the job. The notion of building something so large is just ridiculous (and the material needed!)

  11. Hey Mark Anderson, did those pigs LEARN to fly or did they get launched? I believe I said LEARN. Imagine that, you were wrong. A first? A legend in your own mind?

  12. Kenneth J Crispin | August 29, 2021 at 9:26 pm | Reply

    Okay if your saying pig would fly first we could already do everything that we thought could happen in real science. Like the pig throught trial and error find the right wigs to give the pig for example eagle wings or such.

  13. I discourage commentators from writing more than the article author… And I also discourage shameless plugs.

  14. Thinking about how much alloy material you need to build something like that. Millon of planets and millions of years.
    People jump from a star to a black hole. It is hilarious.

  15. … I don’t think that even smartest scientist are able to figure out what would advanced civilizations use…
    … for an example, just take some old SF book and put them into your:shoes, sneakers, socks or flip flops. But not sandals…

  16. As others indicated, any race capable of such engineering would have no need for it since the problem of mega scale energy generation would have long since been polished to a fine shine. On a similar topic, this nonsense of classifying civilizations by their energy utilization and then conveniently using astronomical objects as the markers is also lame. That jump from Type 2 to Type 3 is a doozy. Damn.. guess we missed again this year. The whole premise that advancement is tracked by energy consumption is so 60s. Just stick some giant wind vanes up in the solar wind, then sit back and enjoy those crazy Terran sit-coms.

  17. Advanced civilizations would have cracked nuclear fusion and zero point energy and would not need to block out their sun to extract energy, it’s time to give up on this Dyson sphere nonsense.

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