Should we destroy Mercury to create a Dyson sphere?

2022-06-09

 |  Technology/Innovation

Should we destroy Mercury to create a Dyson sphere? Both a sudden yet practical and critical question that humanity currently faces. There’s no doubt that Planet Earth is running out of resources to sustain humankind, and many have tried to solve this ever-growing issue; some have succeeded and others have not. However, very few people, including Freeman Dyson, stand in the gap between failure and success. 

What is a Dyson sphere?

The concept of the megastructure called the Dyson sphere resulted from a theoretical thought experiment proposed in the 1960s by physicist, mathematician and astronomer, Freeman J. Dyson, who theorized that all technological civilizations constantly increase their demand for energy over time. 

Our current technologies and methods of gathering energy have proved inconsistent, harmful to the planet and other living organisms, and most importantly, unsustainable. Due to this ever-growing issue, Dyson was motivated to create a mechanism that would consistently, efficiently, and sustainably harness energy from an unlimited power source (a star) – such as the Sun – without the need for manual labour. 

Dyson knew that a megastructure such as this would need to be situated in space, as it had to be near an unlimited power source: stars. He proposed the use of orbiting solar collectors to accomplish this mind-boggling feat. The artificial construct of the shell that consists of living space around a sphere of hydrogen gas was formed in the ideation of the orbiting solar collectors. These orbiting solar collectors would be the main mechanism used to harness endless and unlimited amounts of energy from the Sun or star in the center of the Dyson sphere. This artificial sphere was dubbed the ‘bubbleworld’, which surrounded the star or source of energy. 

However, a Dyson sphere would not be a literal, immense and hollow sphere/ball enclosing the sun, for instance. A dubious structure like this would cause many potential problems including space debris colliding with the sphere, inefficiencies in transporting the energy back to Earth, and having to perform maintenance on a megastructure that is dangerously close to the sun; it would be very liable to drift and crash into the sun, causing life-threatening impacts, damages and catastrophes. All in all, the Dyson sphere is still a very theoretical concept.

Is it possible to create a Dyson sphere?

“An actual sphere around the sun is completely impractical,” says Stuart Armstrong, a research fellow at Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute who has studied megastructure concepts. Armstrong says the immense tensile strength needed to prevent the Sphere from tearing itself apart vastly exceeds that of any known material and is physically impossible to achieve with our current technologies. 

Furthermore, the Sphere would not gravitationally bind to its star in a stable fashion. This seems counterintuitive; you would think that a perfect sphere around a star would be stable. However, if any part of the sphere were nudged even a meteor strike closer to the star, then that part would be pulled preferentially toward the star, creating instability within the entire Dyson sphere/structure. 

Therefore, although such megastructures are theoretically possible, building a stable Dyson sphere system is currently far beyond humanity’s engineering capacity, as the energy required to obtain, transmit, and maintain a complete Dyson sphere exceeds present-day industrial capabilities. 

Image Credit: dottedhippo/iStock/Getty Images Plus

What does this mean for the future of Dyson spheres?

As a solution, scientists have proposed to find materials to construct these technologies elsewhere, outside of Planet Earth. Scientists have discovered natural resources and materials that can potentially be used to sustain a stable Dyson sphere on planet Mercury, especially since Mercury is so close to the sun, making the route of transportation and construction far easier and simpler to conduct.

Some people still believe that building a Dyson sphere is more feasible than it seems, and can help to solve many of our current day struggles and problems. In 2012, the bioethicist and transhumanist George Dvorsky published a blog post titled: “How to build a Dyson sphere in five (relatively) easy steps.” His strategy, in short, calls for sending autonomous robots into space, where they would follow his 5 main (and relatively easy) steps in order to construct a stable, safe, effective and efficient Dyson sphere:

  1. Get energy
  2. Mine Mercury
  3. Get materials into orbit
  4. Make solar collectors
  5. Extract energy

In his blog post, Dvorsky writes: “The idea is to build the entire swarm in iterative steps and not all at once. We would only need to build a small section of the Dyson sphere to provide the energy requirements for the rest of the project. Thus, construction efficiency will increase over time as the project progresses.” 

However, Dvorsky also mentioned (and wrote) in his blog post: “We’re going to have to mine materials from Mercury. Actually, we’ll likely have to take the whole planet apart. The Dyson sphere will require a horrendous amount of material—so much so, in fact, that, should we want to completely envelope the sun, we are going to have to disassemble not just Mercury, but Venus, some of the outer planets, and any nearby asteroids as well.”

Therefore, on the other hand, destroying most of Mercury in order to obtain these rare materials and resources, due to our limited current technological advancements and tools in astronomy may seem like a huge step in the wrong direction to many; especially since Mercury is so dangerously close to the sun, one of the stars in space. Destroying and taking apart a literal planet in our solar system is a huge risk, and is a job/task that can lead to many devastating consequences, problems, harms, disasters and catastrophes. Furthermore, using its materials to construct, create and build a megastructure Dyson sphere around the enormously large sun is still a very unstable, unsure and pending, theoretical idea, as previously stated. 

So we face the question once again: What are the potential harms, problems and consequences related to destroying Mercury, as a planet in our Solar System? Could it potentially be useful and beneficial towards humanity in the future? Are we really that desperate for energy? Should we destroy Mercury to create a Dyson sphere, potentially saving Planet Earth?

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