Space Station DIY: Spheres of Influence

I needed to create a space station. 

Looks like fun, and it’s clearly DIY, but not quite what I mean.

The space station I needed to make would be the place where the characters in my novels could live out their comedies and dramas, grow, change, and face their challenges (or try not to, depending). 

But what sort of environment would it be? It would need earthlike aspects, for earth-evolved persons to be able to live there (and for their earth-evolved writer to be able to wrap her head around it). But it would have to believably function in space.

Again . . . not exactly what I needed!

When I first set out to explore ideas about space stations/habitats, I decided to consider only ideas that had been suggested and extensively considered previously, by people who could do the math (better yet–who liked doing the math, and understood it). This math-challenged artist has enough problems without courting gratuitous disasters.

I also rejected the idea of some kind of mysterious “artificial gravity” that was generated kind of like a magnet one could switch on or off. I wanted to find a design that could exist in our universe, and that was in keeping with physics as we more or less understand things today.

Dyson ring: the tiny dot in the center is the star.

I eventually rejected the idea of using Dyson rings, swarms, bubbles, or spheres, especially for a living surface. In case you haven’t encountered the concept yet, a Dyson structure is a megastructure (bigger than you can possibly imagine, even if you can imagine a lot) that would encircle a star (in some scenarios, our star), to collect energy and possibly create new living surface. There are a lot of practical difficulties with this idea. 

How big is a Dyson sphere? In this concept, big enough to encircle not only the Sun, but also Mercury and Venus, with lots of room to spare. In other words, ludicrously big.


Of course, other sf writers are free to disagree with me, and several have used the idea to good dramatic purpose. Here’s an image of the U.S.S. Enterprise with a Dyson Sphere from Star Trek-TNG’s episode Relics.  

Megastructures in space? Star Trek gave us interesting visuals.

In rejecting a Dyson sphere I’m also at odds with Robert Silverberg (Across a Billion Years) and Stephen Baxter (The Time Ships). So be it, guys. 

We cannot rule out the possibility that at some point in the future we could solve the problems, but as Frasier Cain points out in this video from Universe Today, there might not be enough matter in our solar system to build a full sphere. 



This is not to say there aren’t fascinating possibilities. The idea that you could even partially enclose a star with a structure made by sapient creatures is pretty interesting, and it’s an idea that’s endured for almost 80 years, as I write this. 


The cover of the first edition.

As far as I can tell, Freeman Dyson actually got the first germs of his idea from Olaf Stapledon’s 1937 novel Star Maker. Dyson wrote about the idea a bit later, in 1960. 

Only last winter, scientists using the Kepler Telescope actually did think that maybe they’d discovered evidence of a megasturcture similar to a Dyson sphere. However, now they’ve had second thoughts

Would’ve been pretty interesting, from a scientific point of view–although until we know how friendly they are, I’d just as soon keep extraterrestrials out there in the reaches of space for a while longer. 

I couldn’t resist Danielle Futselaar’s gorgeous rendering of the Dyson-like structure-that-wasn’t, as it might have looked disintegrating from around the star KIC 8462852

Unfortunately, the more I learned about Dyson structures, the less they fit my novels’ needs. But I had a lot of fun with the research. And just because it probably isn’t currently possible to make one, that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible to hypothesize, create images, and dream far-off dreams. 

Last time: I kicked off the “Space Station DIY” series with an overview of my introduction to space colonies, space stations, and this whole idea of living permanently on structures in space.
Next time: we stay well-rounded with Bernal Spheres.

IMAGES: The image of the “DIY Mission Control Play Station” is courtesy of MAKE: on Pinterest. The fanciful “Home in Space” image is from Universe Today (Yep. See below). 

The Dyson Ring and Dyson Sphere diagrams are both courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. God bless you! The article is excellent, too.
Lots of thanks to Paramount Pictures and Popular Mechanics for the image of the U.S.S. Enterprise and a Dyson Sphere. 
The photo of the Star Maker first edition cover is from a different article in the ever-valuable Wikimedia Commons
The gorgeous image of the disintegrating Dyson Sphere (that didn’t turn out to be one after all) by Danielle Futselaar for SETI International is from the Washington Post. Many thanks to all!

VIDEO: Many thanks to Universe Today and Frasier Cain, for the informative YouTube video “What is a Dyson Sphere?” The link takes you to extensive notes, if you’re interested.

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jansgephardt

Kansas City-based Jan S. Gephardt is a writer, artist, and teacher. She makes nationally-recognized paper sculpture and writes sf mystery novels about a sapient police dog.

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