Rising energy prices usually spark some creative ideas for alternatives, but a new one from a futurist named George Dvorsky is pretty far-fetched: He envisions destroying Mercury and scavenging its rocky remains. The debris could be used to build an array of solar power collectors, a Dyson swarm, around the sun.
Renowned theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson explored the idea in the 1960s. It basically involves creating a kind of shell or sphere around the sun that could collect the entirety of its radiation output, which could then be harnessed for use on Earth. Dvorsky builds on the theories of Oxford physicist Stuart Armstrong, and says to build a properly sized Dyson swarm, we would need to take Mercury apart.
Forbes writer Alex Knapp takes his argument apart instead, crunching some numbers with the help of astronomer Phil Plait. Click through to Knapp's argument for the breakdown of joules needed to dismantle Mercury versus joules obtained by solar collectors. But the gist is that it would take 174 years to recover the energy input that it would take to blow up the lovely, geologically interesting innermost planet. So ... why would we do it at all?
It's obviously not a practical idea, but it does bring to mind an interesting paradox in energy policy. Most people agree that alternative sources of energy are required to break humans' dependence on light sweet crude oil. You can argue about the reasons why — global warming or high prices or dependence on unstable countries, etc. — but let's just agree that we need to get over oil. The problem is, we need to use oil to get over oil! We can't build cadmium telluride solar panel factories without big trucks, likely powered by diesel. We can't harvest or refine the rare earth metals for efficient batteries without using heavy mining equipment, and so on. So we'd better get moving on this stuff while we still can, while we have enough oil left to build something else.
In a way, the Dyson sphere concept is plagued by the same problems. If it worked, such a plan would provide the planet with vast amounts of energy. But using the energy to execute the plan makes it seem pointless, doesn't it?
Before we destory a planet, perhaps make good use of the asteroid belt; since were fantasizing about blowing up things and building things....
See life in all its beautiful colors, and
from different perspectives too!
I'd think the resulting alteration in both the Sun's stability as well as Earth's orbit might be of just a bit more concern than the amount of energy it would require to "dismantle" and process Mercury.
This has got to be the dumbest idea.. ever! It also show's how humanity has allot of "growing up" to do before we can reach a point where we learn to co-exist with what nature has provided. So essentially what this guy is saying is.. we are going to destroy an entire planet just to help make our planet a little bit greener by moving away from oil? Wow??.. just wow... ??
Why on EARTH would anyone say to use Mercury?!? Not only is there the extremely large asteroid belt that doesn't have a drastically deep gravity well just past the next orbit, there's the entire Oort cloud out at the kind of range Dyson spheres or clouds would probably be built at. To demolish a planet would be a wasteful and plain idiotic resource acquisition strategy!!
Daniel A. Mercer
All that additional energy would eventually make its way into the environment. Even solar power actually increases the amount of energy captured from sunlight. The amount of energy captured by a Dyson Sphere would incinerate the planet.
Lol. This is just funny to me. You see, I'm writing a novel which takes place 1400 years in the future by which time humans have dismantled mercury and are using it power the settlements on Earth, the moon, and Mars. When I came up with the idea, I was just figuring that it could work. Now I know 174 years to recoup the energy and throw in a couple extra decades due to inefficiencies lol.
This article is about building some great energy producing device for the benefit of reducing our consumption of oil, but in the process of building said device would expend great recourses of oil, plus this particular goal would take 174 years to recoup our initial expend oil recourses to build it in the first place.
Perhaps it would be best to change the mindset of the human race of what is 'want' verse 'need' in energy consumption. I remember growing up, most people had a much smaller home than what I see today. And I also observe today, that a great many feel then need SUVs, multiple TVs, vast quantities of electronic devices, multiple types of computers and yes air conditioning is a need too.
Then we can just learn and be better efficient in how we do things too.
There is a lot we can do to reduce energy consumption that does not include increase oil consumption to do it.
Dyson development is still well off into the theoretical future.
If it happens, it is unlikely to be a "blow up the planet" phenomenon.
Imagine a solar robot that turns rock into solar satalites and into more solar robots that turn rock into solar satalites and solar robots.
One is put down on the planet (or a dozen) and they get to work mining, refining, and producing. Since they expand exponetially, then reach a critical mass of production off of current solar resources, and create a net gain over time.
The idea that you would do it all at once, blowing up the planet to increase surface area to make if faster, is idiotic. Obviously, with more speed, there must be more energy input.
A replication model based on biology, however, creates increase on given resources more efficiently and would eventually get to the same result with far less input (at the cost of more time).
Exponential growth is the model that created the energy demand crisis so exponential models are the only way to solve it.
What is lacking is the strength of autonomous robotics, the means to mine, refine, and manufacture in a single package, and the need for the level of energy even a fraction of what Dyson progressions require.
Space is big, biologic life is short, and these are problems for our future robotic overlords to worry about.
People we have done this before. We destroy an environment without thinking of the consequences. If were to harvest all the suns energy, wouldn't that dramatically affect the solar systems weather.
It would be like building a dyson sphere around the earth.... then what.
A dyson sphere around the sun would result in catastrophic temperature changes. Earth would become a frozen waste in a few years.
I guess we could always build a ring of mini suns around the earth with all that extra energy.
Just my thoughts.
popsci analysis is wrong!
some energy forms are much more easily acquired the other forms.
thermonuclear bombs are pretty easy (relatively) to make
and their yield grows linearly with the hydrogen amount in it
(which is plentiful).
#if we could harvest thermonuclear blast we would never have any energy problems, but we cant harvest it.
on the other side solar panels are much less energy dense,
but we can harvest the energy produced easily.
therefore to make a planet shattering thermonuclear bomb will take much less then 174 years to make, in terms of energy required by humans (not energy developed during the blast).
(waving from the back of the room)
Hello!...Politicians…Consumers! Might we suggest (again for the umpteenth time) giving thorium a place in the energy plan?
Well then again, what do scientists know about the subject of energy and how to produce it compared to politicians? I mean, after all, there are politicians that have a bachelors or masters degree in Political Science so they are obviously better qualified to make the energy policy. How can a PhD Physicist, Chemist or Material Scientist ever attempt compare their knowledge in the subject of energy to the politicians?
I'm willing to bet that with enough materials, and the willingness to make it a 200 year-long project? The human race could probably get behind this. Strangely enough, the first roadblock that got me was this...
Mercury, if a quick Google search is to be believed, has a volume of about 6.083 x 10^10 km cubed. The planet as we know thus far is solid rock, save for the layers of liquid we suspect are below its surface. Mercury may not be the biggest planet on the block, but that is still a very substantial amount of space rock to contend with.
...how exactly are we supposed to "blow up" something of that size?
If humanity sees no problem in destroying a planet to solve its own selfish problems, it makes me wonder what else is considered expendable too.
We humans are the destroyer of worlds.
I do not think that is a good thing.
I have to agree this is a terrible idea. It looks to me as though people are just big kids trying to figure out what toys to make next. It's said there is more energy in one cubic centimeter of perfect vacuum than in a hundred million suns, so if we put our efforts toward using this quantum energy, to my mind it's a far better direction in which to go.
Alex Knapp (the forbes guy) miscalculated big time. The output of the sun is roughly 4E26 watts. Mercury's gravity bids it together with roughly 2E30 watt-seconds of power. If you do the math, that's 5000 seconds to take the planet apart. About 90 minutes. If you multiply by three because solar collectors are so inefficient that means it will take about 4.5 hours. So apart from the self replicating robots which I think are a bit of a stretch, I don't see anything implausible or even particularly fanciful about Dvorsky's plan.
Alex also didn't realize we are dealing with a self replication scenario, which he admitted in his second post. Unfortunately he stuck by his guns regarding the 174 year limit, which is also hogwash. Now other news sources seem to be picking up and repeating this silly misinformation.
One thing that Dvorsky sowed some unnecessary seeds of confusion on: this isn't a solution to the energy crisis on earth. This is rather a solution to the energy crisis we will perhaps have when we go out in space and decide we want to use trillions of times as much energy as we currently do. To solve the current energy crisis we would use a much smaller scale approach to get energy from space.
its funny to read some of the comments on here. Use the asteroid belt instead of Mercury. yeah. sure I suppose having to use 100000000000000000 times more fuel and time THERE AND BACK again sounds like a more cost effective use of energy.
"I'd think the resulting alteration in both the Sun's stability as well as Earth's orbit might be of just a bit more concern than the amount of energy it would require to "dismantle" and process Mercury."
Mercury = 0.055 earth mass
sun = 330,000 earth mass.
I dont think its going to be that big of a deal on the comic scale. I think pouring Mercury mass in hydro carbons like we already have is going to have slightly more of an impact on earth.
and beside if would be a mute point, becuase we would have so much power from the dyson sphere would heat the earth or probably change it orbit if we so disired.
@flash.killer you never saw the Armageddon did you? you can throw 1 zillion nuclear bombs at Mercury, and all you going to get is a nice glassy planet that is no far too radioactive to even get close to. and the bombs are only half the problems. getting them there also is.
we could make a zillion mega bomb, but.... what rocket is going to take it that.
and we need a zillion mega watt laser to drill the magic hole to mecery core, and of course when we blow up mecryy with a bomb, none of the peices will go flying. they will all stay perfctly nicely right there so we can harvest them. then we still need to proccess every single ounce of the planet. its eaiser to do it bit by bit. just like they do on the earth.
The article and most of the comments are all fantasy anyways....
Science sees no further than what it can sense, i.e. facts.
Religion sees beyond the senses, i.e. faith.
Open your mind and see!
174 years? In comparison to the projected lifetime of the sun and hopefully mankind, that is not very much. Let's do it! ;)
Additionally, if most of mercury is a metal core, we might be able to use that anyway ;)
And isn't the asteroid belt a little much far out?
What about using the energy harvested while building that cloud to extend the cloud? We could also do that in the asteroid belt of course... or anywhere we have enough raw materials a swarm of intelligent robots could build such a thing... the only problem would probably be to get all that energy to where it is needed
@Inaka__rob Well, of course moving matter from the asteroid belt to a closer solar orbit would be inefficient. I just don't see why you would want to build a Dyson structure within Earth's orbit, as that would block solar energy to here and freeze the only planet in the solar system that is habitable with very little effort needed. Hence, converting the asteroid belt in situ into a Dyson structure. Duh.
Let's just all move to Mercury.
My (Stuart Armstrong) suggestion was never a practical idea for solving current energy problems - it was connected with the Fermi Paradox, showing how little effort would be required on a cosmic scale to start colonizing the entire universe (the original talk is at www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQTfuI-9jIo&feature=g-all-u&context=G240991cFAAAAAAAADAA ).
Even though it's not short term practical, the plan isn't fanciful. Solar power is about 3.8×10^26 Watts. The gravitational binding energy of Mercury is about 1.80 ×10^30 Joules, so if we go at about 1/3 efficiency, it would take about 5 hours to take Mercury apart from scratch. And there is enough material in Mercury to dyson nearly the whole sun (using a Dyson swarm, rather than a rigid sphere), in Mercury orbit (moving it up to Earth orbit would be pointless).
So the questions are:
1) Can we get the whole process started in the first place? (not yet)
2) Can we automate the whole process? (not yet)
3) And can we automate the whole process well enough to get a proper feedback loop (where the solar captors we build send their energy to Mercury to continue the mining that builds more solar captors, etc...)? (maybe not possible)
If we get that feedback loop, then exponential growth will allow us to disassemble Mercury in pretty trivial amounts of time. If not, it will take considerably longer.
Cheese made a lot of sense there and in response to the whole freezing Earth by blocking the sun deal... these things wouldn't block the sun out, we're not that stupid of a race. With how small mercury is in the sky, those tiny things in comparison wouldn't even begin to block the sun out. NASA is able to do so much more than they do, we probably could have colonized other moons and planets by now except they're dragging their feet massively. I can imagine by the time this idea would be put into action at NASAs current pace, we'd already have solar panel-like things nearing 90% efficiency or better making the outside energy requirement not generated by the sun almost non-existant.