As we evolve and become more technological, our need for habitable space and energy continuously increases.
Enter — megastructures.
Megastructures are artificial habitats of gigantic proportions, built to expand our territory without us having to fly out and colonize alien worlds. They range from modest sub-lunar sizes, to galaxy-encompassing constructions.
A quite ingenious construction, the Bernal sphere is a space habitat of fairly small size, that could house around 30’000 humans. It’s essentially a sphere of 16 km diameter, with the habitable crust on the inside. It harbors a functional ecosystem and atmosphere, all held together by centrifugal forces.
It’s pretty awesome for a generation ship, for example. But imagine the awkwardness of being able to look into the yards of your distant neighbors with only a pair of binoculars, or see your kid play in the schoolyard above you.
The Swiss architect and artist Christian Waldvogel came up with a way to increase real estate on Earth by literally turning it inside out. Our planet would be gradually deconstructed (excavated and pumped) and the material used to layer the inside of an immense artificial sphere almost the size of Jupiter. Humans and the entire planetary ecosystem would inhabit the inside of this hollow sphere, and gravity would be generated by centrifugation.
There would essentially be only two “continents”, two surfaces of this gigantic icosahedron that carry earth, water, and air. Sunlight would enter through other two sides left open, while the poles—which would have neither gravity nor atmosphere—would be used to store raw material.
Waldvogel described the process and result of this incredible undertaking in his book, Globus Cassus, which won the Gold Medal in the category “Most beautiful books of the World” at the Leipzig Book Fair in 2005. Needless to say it’s on my To Read list now. I frankly only stumbled upon this idea while researching for this blog post, and it’s slowly taking over my mind. DAMN YOU, Waldvogel! I have to finish my edits, not worldbuild for future novels!
An even greater fit of engineering would be the creation of a ringworld (as described by Larry Niven). It would essentially be a ring built around the sun, with the diameter of Earth’s orbit, carrying the matter of all planets in the system on its inside, all inhabited and held in place by—you guessed it—centrifugal force. The orbit would be maintained by jets attached to the outside of the ring; the atmosphere would be kept in place by gigantic walls along the ring’s rims; and night would be created by the shadows of several gigantic cubes orbiting within the ringworld’s orbit at fix intervals.
The next level of megastructure engineering requires even more matter and a much bigger surface. The Alderson Disk takes all the matter in the solar system and packs it into a gigantic CD with the sun at its center. The closer you are to the sun, the hotter it gets, and the further away you go, the cooler it gets. Night and day cycles are created by bobbing the disk up and down along the sun’s rotational axis, until one side of the disk or the other is left in darkness.
Spheres built around the sun. You expected this next step, right? 😉
While their initial purpose in Dyson’s vision wasn’t to create a habitat, but to harvest the entire output of solar power to satisfy the needs of type II civilization, Dyson spheres have been further developed by theoreticians and science-fiction writers in various directions.
Dyson spheres can be of several designs:
- the swarm — a set of independent satellites orbiting the sun in a ring
- the bubble — a set of swarms distributed around the sun and held in place by solar sails
- the shell — a solid shell encasing the star within its center, and thus absorbing 100% of its output and practically blacking it out to the rest of the galaxy
The ultimate Dyson sphere would encompass a whole galaxy, absorbing its entire energy output, reusing all of the hard material from its every planet, moon and asteroid, and offering habitable space to trillions of trillions of lifeforms and countless civilizations. Talk about MEGASTRUCTURES! *pants excitedly*
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This post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge, April 2014.
In 2012, my M post was — 13 Myths About Writing