What is Starlifting?
Removing material from a star for industrial use or for stellar husbandry. The energy required for this process comes from the star itself, either directly from its luminosity or from fusion or matter conversion of the lifted material.
Starlifting is the process of removing matter from stars, and in this episode Isaac will look at how you would do this and why you would do this. We will see there are a lot of reasons, and that the methods are not very high tech at all.
Star lifting is any of several hypothetical processes by which a sufficiently advanced civilisation (specifically, one of Kardashev-II or higher) could remove a substantial portion of a star’s matter which can then be re-purposed, while possibly optimising the star’s energy output and lifespan at the same time. The term appears to have been coined by David Criswell.
Methods include increasing the star’s rotation until material begins to drift off the equator, or by magnetically squeezing the star until matter is expelled from the poles.
Stars already lose a small flow of mass via solar wind, coronal mass ejections, and other natural processes. Over the course of a star’s life on the main sequence this loss is usually negligible compared to the star’s total mass; only at the end of a star’s life when it becomes a red giant or a supernova is a large amount of material ejected. The star lifting techniques that have been proposed would operate by increasing this natural plasma flow and manipulating it with magnetic fields.
How does starlifting work?
Stars have deep gravity wells, so the energy required for such operations is large. For example, lifting solar material from the surface of the Sun to infinity requires 2.1 × 10^11 J/kg. This energy could be supplied by the star itself, collected by a Dyson sphere; using only 10% of the Sun’s total power output would allow 5.9 × 10^21 kilograms of matter to be lifted per year (0.0000003% of the Sun’s total mass), or 8% of the mass of Earth’s moon.
The simplest system for star lifting would increase the rate of solar wind outflow by directly heating small regions of the star’s atmosphere, using any of a number of different means to deliver energy such as microwave beams, lasers, or particle beams – whatever proved to be most efficient for the engineers of the system. This would produce a large and sustained eruption similar to a solar flare at the target location, feeding the solar wind.
Stars have deep gravity wells, so the energy required for such operations is large. For example, lifting solar material from the surface of the Sun to infinity requires 2.1 × 1011 J/kg. This energy could be supplied by the star itself, collected by a Dyson sphere; using 10% of the Sun’s total power output would allow 5.9 × 1021 kilograms of matter to be lifted per year (0.0000003% of the Sun’s total mass), or 8% of the mass of Earth’s moon.
Is there evidence of starlifting in our galaxy?
The star KIC 8462852 shows a very unusual and hard to comprehend light curve. The dip d7922 absorbs 16% of the starlight. The light curve is unusually smooth but the very steep edges make it hard to find a simple natural explanation by covering due to comets or other well-known planetary objects.
We describe a mathematical approximation to the light curve, which is motivated by a physically meaningful event of a large stellar beam which generates an orbiting cloud. The data might fit to the science fiction idea of star lifting, a mining technology that could extract star matter.
We extend the model to d1519 and d1568 using multiple beams and get an encouraging result that fits essential parts of the dips but misses other parts of the measured flux. We recommend further exploration of this concept with refined models.
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