Scientists have started searching for Dyson spheres, artificial constructs where a star is entirely surrounded by a swarm of facilities or habitats, utilizing all available solar energy.

Such a construct would be visible only in the infrared, due to its waste heat. Dyson spheres are named for physicist Freeman Dyson, who first postulated their existence.

Jason Wright at Pennsylvania State University in University Park and Matt Povich at the California State Polytechnic University in Pomona are looking for Dyson spheres in the data from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) and the Spitzer space telescope. Povich says the team should be able to detect a sun-like enclosed by a Dyson sphere anywhere in the Milky Way galaxy.

Wright believes that once a civilization constructs a Dyson sphere, it will quickly begin to spread to other star systems. As a result, he believes a single, isolated Dyson sphere to be improbable. If Dyson spheres had started in our galaxy, they would cover every available star by now. Since that hasn’t happened, he is looking for Dyson spheres in other galaxies.

Exoplanet pioneer Geoff Marcy at the University of California in Berkeley, Andrew Howard at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu, and Lucianne Walkowicz at Princeton University are looking for patterns of unusual dimming, which might indicate the presence of a partial Dyson sphere or a sphere that is under construction.

Previous attempts to locate Dyson spheres were made by Vyacheslav Slysh at the Space Research Institute in Moscow in 1985 and Richard Carrigan at Fermilab in 2009, using data from the Infrared Astronomical Satellite. Carrigan’s results were published in the Astrophysical Journal.

The current efforts are funded by the New Frontiers in Astronomy and Cosmology program of the Templeton Foundation. The fact that there is only a single source of funding for this research shows how hard it is to get funding for such projects from traditional sources.

The difficulty of obtaining funding suggests a possible role for citizen scientists. It is useful to note that Marcy and Howard are depending on eyeball analysis, rather than computers, to detect changes in light curves — an approach that has employed citizen scientists to great advantage in the past.

Written by Astro1 on May 27th, 2013 , Astrobiology, Astronomy

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    Michael A. Wolfe commented

    Let’s look for E.T.

    May 28, 2013 at 12:58 pm
    Dilip G. Banhatti commented

    MIT Prof. Gerard K- O’Neill presented results of undergraduate projects of 1969 & earlier in a 1974 Physics Today issue, detailing how a space colny can be built near Lagrangian points L-4 and L-5 of Earth-Moon system. He was interviewed on this by John D. Kraus for Cosmic Search magazine. The 13 issues of Cosmic Search are available online. I can provide references which can also be googled.

    May 28, 2013 at 5:46 pm