Eating the Sun

15.40, Friday 23 Jun 2023

One way to look at it is that we’re 3.5 billion years into a race that has 7.5 billion years yet to run:

One day the Sun will consume the Earth. Or will the Earth consume the Sun?

It’s physics vs life, if you like.

(It was the solstice this week and someone posted on Twitter, one day the Sun will consume the Earth, so this is apropos of that.)

Stellar evolution says that the Sun will gradually become a red giant, transform with a rapid helium flash into a subgiant, grow again then evaporate into a nebula with a central white dwarf. The end of the Sun.

OR: humanity could develop until it becomes a Type II civilisation on the Kardashev scale:

A civilization capable of harnessing the energy radiated by its own large star- for example, by means of the successful completion of a Dyson sphere or Matrioshka brain.

In which case there’s no red giant, no helium flash, and no nebula.

Given how well astrophysicists understand the evolution of stars, I wonder if anyone has counted white dwarfs to see if there’s the expected number? It might be lower if there’s a lot of life out there.

So maybe we don’t need to try to spot a Type II exocivilisation directly, with our big telescopes. Instead we could detect their presence statistically.

Ought we take sides?

Like: if you’re not all in on eating the Sun for its total energy output to drive the turbines of humanity in a giant spherical megastructure capturing all available sunlight, does that make you a species traitor?

Secretly supporting the other team, some kind of Kim Philby of the Long Now.

Thought experiment: if you knew that your best friend was rooting for one side or the other, as abstract and as distant as it all is, would you feel differently about them? I think you might.

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