We'd need an astronomical amount of resources to construct a Dyson sphere, a giant theoretical shell that would harvest all of a given star's energy, around the Sun.
In fact, as science journalist Jaime Green explores in her new book "The Possibility of Life," we'd have to go as far as to demolish a Jupiter-sized planet to build such a megastructure, a concept first devised by physicist Freeman Dyson in 1960.
"If you wanted enough material to build such a thing, you’d essentially have to disassemble a planet, and not just a small one — more like Jupiter," Green writes in her book.
It's a fascinating brain teaser that explores the fundamental motivations for a species — are intelligent beings primarily motivated to expand and use up more energy as they grow?
And it doesn't just concern humanity. Some astronomers have taken it upon themselves to look for signs of extraterrestrial life by scanning the skies for Dyson spheres lurking in other star systems. So by considering what our descendants might build, perhaps we could figure out what to search the cosmos for.
Such a sphere could allow a civilization to transition from a Type I to a Type II civilization on the Kardashev scale, a method of measuring how advanced a society is. In simple terms, instead of harnessing the energy by using all of the existing surfaces of a given planet, it uses all of the energy available from a star, or Type II.
Not everybody agrees that constructing a Dyson sphere would end up being such a huge undertaking. In an interview with Green, astrophysicist Jason Wright compared such an effort to Manhattan, a human and interconnected "megastructure," which was constructed over a long period of time, bit by bit.
"It was planned to some degree, but no one was ever like, 'Hey, let’s build a huge city here,'" Wright told Green. "It’s just every generation made it a little bigger."
In the same way, a Dyson sphere or swarm of satellites could be constructed over time to harness all of a star's energy, he argued.
"If the energy is out there to take and it’s just gonna fly away to space anyway, then why wouldn’t someone take it?" Wright told Green.
This article was originally published in Futurism