We haven’t the faintest idea whether there is alien life on other planets. If there is, we don’t know if they are more advanced than we are. We don’t know if they burn fossil fuels or if their planet even has fossils. And if aliens are somewhere out there, we don’t know if Elon Musk is one of them, and if so, whether his electric car revolution was an evil plot to overthrow the fossil fuel industry. We’re not sure if tinfoil hats really work.
But we do know energy. And if there is an advanced alien civilization out there, they use it. What kind of power juices their spaceship? Some scientists think they know.
Power of the Stars
Dan Hooper, senior scientist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, thinks that advanced aliens of the future could use stars for their power. Why stars? Simple, really. Aliens of the future, of course, will one day find themselves stranded, or isolated, by the ever-expanding universe. As they find themselves in increasingly rural regions of space, they would need to find alternative forms of energy (alternatives to what, we do not know). This alternative energy from the stars could be captured by the aliens, and then extracted using something called a Dyson sphere—an idea straight from a 1937 literal work of fiction, Olaf Stapledon’s Star Maker. As for Olaf Stapledon’s qualifications, aside from science fiction author later inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame, he was a conscientious objector in WWI, and holds a PhD in Philosophy. We figure that makes him just as qualified as any theoretical physicist to woolgather about little green men’s future energy prospects. His Dyson Sphere concept later gained traction in the scientific community who admitted such a device would be theoretically possible.
The Dyson sphere—or rather, the concept of a Dyson sphere, is a spherical structure made up of satellites that operate in much the same way that a solar panel operates. The sphere would be built around the star, whereby it would then capture that star’s energy.
Hooper suggests that an alien race could then take that energy to “propel those stars toward the center of civilization, where they will become gravitationally bound and thus protected from the future expansion of space.”
Catching Some Cosmic Rays for Itty Bitty Life
How would an advanced civilization survive the harsh realities of space? Ask the recently discovered bacterium known as Desulforudis audaxviator, which apparently can survive without all the usual necessities such as sunlight, oxygen, and carbon. The bacterium, discovered in the bottom of a South African gold mine, gets the energy it needs from radioactive uranium found in the depths of the mine—and now scientists think that other life—extraterrestrial life—could live out there in the universe in much the same way, even in places that our puny Earth brains assumed was inhospitable, by feeding off of radiation that rains down from space in the form of galactic cosmic rays.
These cosmic rays are high-energy particles emanating from supernovas—and they’re everywhere, even here on planet Earth. Our atmosphere protects us from most of these rays, but other planets’ atmospheres that are either negligible or less accommodating would make great hosts for life that craves a little cosmic ray action.
But there’s one catch: galactic cosmic rays aren’t nearly as powerful as the sun, so any life that it would support would have to be quite small and simple, like the bacteria above.
And apparently this theory has been tested. Astrobiologist and computational physicist Dimitra Atri ran some simulations to see how much energy these rays would provide on other worlds. Atri’s trials showed that steady cosmic rays would indeed supply enough energy to power a simple organism. Sadly, it would not produce enough to power your Tesla.
Black Hole Starships
Aliens could, so we’re told, power their starships with the energy created by a black hole. Black holes emit radiation when consuming matter. This radiation, called Hawking radiation, could be used as fuel for advanced spaceships, among other things. This one has been categorized as being “on the edge of possibility” by mathematician Louis Crane and physicist Shawn Westmoreland in a research paper for Kansas State University.
And they’re not the first ones to theorize about the black hole’s capacity to provide energy to some advanced race. In the ‘80s, physicists George Unruh and Robert Wald theorized in How to Mine Energy from a Black Hole that some type of energy collection device—a box, for example—could be lowered near the black hole’s event horizon to capture the radiation—a tethered device, of course, lest the mechanisms be swallowed up in the black hole. The device could then be pulled back out of the event horizon, and the radiation it brought with it extracted and used.
The energy from a black hole is substantial. There is more radiation emitted every second from just one black hole than is radiated from all the ordinary stars in what is considered to be the observable universe. But other theorists argue that the mechanism (such as a rope or cord or whatever) could only support its own weight, according to some hard and fast physics laws, and not its own weight along with some container filled with radiation.
Regardless of how it is done, an advanced alien race could theoretically come up with a superior way to harness the bountiful power of a black hole.
That is of course, if there really is life on other planets—and if it’s far more advanced than we are.
It has been said that there are three basic types of theoretical civilizations on other planets, according to the original Kardashev Type scale, which classifies civilizations based on how much energy--and what type of energy--a civilization can utilize.
A Type I civilization manages its entire energy and material resources of its own planet, which includes energy that falls on a planet from its parent star. For Earth, this would mean harnessing all the energy from the Sun. We are a bit of a ways off from even the bottom of Kardashev’s scale.
Type II civilizations are even more advanced and can harvest and harness the energy and resources of a star, and its entire planetary system. Type III, the most advanced civilization, can use the energy resources of the entire galaxy.
To date, based on studies of mid-IR emissions that are associated with waste heat energy by-products, there is no evidence that any Type III civilizations actually exist in the local universe, so you can put away those tinfoil hats.
It may be prudent to add here that the many hours that appear to have been spent studying and researching theoretical life on other planets and the theoretical energy sources these theoretical beings might use, may find new purpose in searching for superior forms of energy for the here and now. Cold fusion, perhaps?
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