Dyson Sphere

In 1960, physicist/astronomer Freeman J. Dyson had an idea – perhaps we were going about looking for extraterrestrial life the wrong way. His paper, published in Journal Science – Search For Artificial Stellar Sources of Infrared Radiation, proposed searching for cosmic signatures of solar energy collection. Instead of waiting for faint “pings” generated by radio signals, why not search for solar system sized energy collection structures.

Dyson asked us to ponder the obvious – very little solar energy actually strikes our planet, what if we could collect that energy as a power source? Why not look for evidence of advanced cosmic civilizations based on probabilities they knew how to trap and use solar power?

A Dyson Sphere – as described on the website http://www.sentientdevelopments.com/2012/03/how-to-build-dyson-sphere-in-five.html

“It would consist of a shell of solar collectors (or habitats) around the star. With this model, all (or at least a significant amount) of the energy would hit a receiving surface where it can be used. [Dyson] speculated that such structures would be the logical consequence of the long-term survival and escalating energy needs of a technological civilization.”

This next link explains Dyson’s theory in ways I couldn’t hope to make better sense of..

Dyson would be pleased to learn science has finally taken notice. Plucked from the pages of science fiction, serious science is exploring his theory as fact.


Solar Sector Boundary Crossing

Hang on for a lesson in solar dynamics – Earth is experiencing a solar sector boundary crossing. Let me explain….

The sun produces wind (currently 410.9 Km/second) that blasts across the cosmos. Just like Earth, our Sun has a magnetic field – known as the interplanetary magnetic field (IMF).  Whipped into a spiral rotation, wind driven IMF rotates in one direction. It divides into spiral sections pointing to and away from the sun along the ecliptic plane ( a direct line between Earth and the Sun). The edge of this swirling mass has a surface separating polarities of planetary and solar magnetism called the heliosphere current sheet.


Earth’s magnetic field points north at the magnetopause (the point of contact between our magnetosphere and the IMF). If the IMF happens to point south at contact (scientific term, southward Bz) the two fields link causing partial cancellation of Earth’s magnetic field – in other words, opening a temporary door for solar energy to enter our atmosphere. Welcome solar sector boundary crossing – a phenomenon born of high solar wind and coronal mass ejections (CME’s – aka solar flares).

It takes 3 or 4 days for magnetism to sort itself out – in the meantime, and barring the occasional high frequency radio disruption,  wonky GPS and cell phones, peppered with sudden power grid failure events – we’re treated to kick ass auroras.

Solar FREAKIN’ Roadways

Since appearing May 18 on youtube,  this video has attracted millions of views. Idaho couple Scott and Julie Brusaw came up with an idea – manufacture interlocking hexagonal solar panels, toss in LED lights (programmable to mark lanes and shoulders), set them to maintain a temperature above freezing (eliminate snow and ice – thus the need for salting, sanding and snow plows) make them compatible for running electric cars, and finally – produce three times the energy we have today.

Grant money obtained from the U.S. Highways Administration allowed the couple to make a 4 x 11 meter demonstration lot. Another youtube video shows a John Deere tractor driving across the panels – attesting to durability and claim it can withstand 250,000 lbs. of weight.

They began a fundraising campaign on Indiegogo, their goal – secure a million dollars, hire engineers capable of taking their idea from prototype to production. As of today, over 1.9 million in donations support  “solar freakin’ roadways”.


Veins pop at the temples of “big oil” with the slightest whisper of solar energy. Red faced, indignant executives hunker down to plot political palm greasing – infinite resources sew politicians into big oil’s pockets. War masquerades as something other than who sits on the most oil – the rich getting richer as those left behind struggle with increasing energy costs. Mega projects like the Alberta tar sands annihilate the environment – fracking, hazardous waste, polluted water – all acceptable consequences of our oil addiction.

Understanding alternatives exist, demanding those alternatives and standing up to oil bullies is possible. Not just possible – attainable. Last week I wrote about Frank Shuman, the American who built a fully operational solar power plant in 1912 Egypt. A remarkably efficient system using the sun to power pumps drawing water from the Nile. Those pumps turned desert into thriving cotton fields.

We don’t have to wait until oil reserves run dry, the environment is devastated and society collapses. Technology exists today capable of putting an end to antiquated nonsense. This isn’t rocket science – big oil has us over a barrel and laughs all the way to the bank. Big oil manipulates public opinion, puts money in the hands of elected officials or aggressively funds political campaigns deemed favorable to their bottom line.

Watch the video, ponder common sense, then grow a fat backbone. I promise it feels really good to snap out of indifferent mode and care about something.



Had We Paid Attention to Frank Shuman….

“One thing I feel sure of is that the human race must finally utilize direct sun power or revert to barbarianism” – Frank Shuman (1862-1918)

Frank Shuman was an American visionary – part engineer, part inventor – a man in the wrong place at the wrong time. In 1897, Shuman demonstrated a “solar engine” constructed at his home. By reflecting sunlight onto cubes filled with ether, a substance with a lower boiling point than water, pipes inside the cubes created steam which powered a toy engine continuously for two years.

In 1908 he formed the Sun Power Company with the intention of building large power plants. By now his improved system of reflecting solar energy with mirrors meant water could be used instead of ether. He invented a low pressure steam turbine that processed energy 4 times faster than any turbine of the day. Patented in 1912 and featured in Scientific American magazine several times during 1911 -12, Shuman appeared to have captured imagination.

Between 1912-1913, Shuman built the worlds first solar energy plant in Meadi, Egypt. Solar powered engines pumped 6000 gallons of water per minute from the Nile river into a now fertile cotton field. Using a system of troughs, mirrored heat collectors aligned to follow the sun’s path, he concentrated solar energy into boilers capable of realizing his dream to transform the Sahara into a jewel. For several years, nary a ripple interrupted Shuman’s remarkable invention.

Financial backing from the British and German governments fanned Shuman’s plan to build a series of power plants along the Nile. Intent on challenging coal as an energy source, Shuman declared it would take only 20,250 square miles of the Sahara to provide enough energy for the entire world. The first world war squelched his dream – funding became the joke that saw his power plant demolished by the British government for scrap metal needed for munitions. Shuman dies in 1918.

Pondering Frank Shuman has me struggling with emotions. My gut reaction is sadness, followed by admiration, respect and clarity that only comes from hindsight. Shuman didn’t stand a chance against “big coal” and soon to be “big oil”. I get that yet can’t help wondering what might have been if we had paid attention to Frank Shuman.


Image – renewablebook.com