This is the second part of a three part series; “Conversations with Yuri Artsutanov”. Part I can be found here.
(Conversation with Yura Artsutanov by phone – Melbourne – St Petersburg), March 2010
Q. What is Dyson’s sphere?
A. Dyson is an American scientist-physicist. He proposed that if we want to survive in the Universe we need to search for much bigger sources of energy than the sun, the sizes of the entire solar system and the absolute temperature of radiation up to 300 F, the temperature needed to support life. He said that life of any civilization develops and expands requiring more and more space. In the end, the entire terrestrial civilization will occupy a “cocoon” – so called “Dyson’s cocoon ” which will include some of the planets of our solar system, satellites, any artificial bodies (Sputniks) etc. All this matter will form a sphere around the sun capturing its entire energy for use by humankind. At present only a millionth part reaches our planet. So the sphere has to be of an enormous size but its temperature has to be equal to that of the human body.
Nobody knows how to construct such a cocoon. The (Polish) writer and philosopher Stanislav Lem wrote that it was impossible. Mathematics and mechanics also indicate such a sphere is impossible to create, that it is fundamentally unstable, that it will be crushed by the forces of gravity.
So this is my proposal: to make a belt in the shape of a beautiful shell revolving around the sun like a stretched satellite. If such a belt were constructed we could get not just a millionth part of the sun’s energy but as much as one hundredth of it. However, the radiation will be immense so a second belt has to be constructed at an angel to the first, and a third belt – at the same angle as the second one. The second belt must have a lesser diameter than the first one and the third belt a lesser diameter than the second to prevent them from crashing into each other. Such a shell will be impossible to crush. It will be stable because in each section the centrifugal force will be balanced by the force of gravity. The sphere will rotate around the sun and in addition it might even be possible to move closer to the sun. However that is a very complicated option.
So in principle it is possible to devise a mechanical structure which will not be crushed under its own weight and I’m the first one to propose this. My article “Threefold Matryoshka” was published in the Russian magazine “Energy”. 1986, No.12. There is even a drawing of how it will look. I sent the article to Freeman Dyson, but unfortunately I couldn’t meet him when I was in the USA about 10 years ago.
Copyright 2010 Yuri Artsutanov, Natalie Sherman, Eugene Schlusser
Again, these conversations are copyrighted and cannot be reproduced in any form without the express, written consent of Eugene Schlusser (eugenesc [at] netspace.net.au).
The ‘belt’ idea seems to mimic Larry Niven’s Ringworld (one of the all-time great SciFi stories) – I wonder if Yuri is familiar with this novel? I’ll have to ask him at the upcoming Space Elevator Conference.
As I mentioned in Part I of this series, Yuri will be attending the upcoming Space Elevator Conference in Redmond, Washington. If you want the chance to be able to meet both Yuri and Jerome Pearson, two of the true pioneers of the space age, come out to the Conference – it’s going to be the best one yet!