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11.4.12

Mercury, as captured by the Messenger spacecraft: Mining the planet could offer humanity raw materials for the next stage in its evolution
It sounds like science fiction, but building a giant ball around the sun to harness its power could be closer than you think - we just have to blow up the planet Mercury.
An emerging technology expert has claimed that we can start building a Dyson sphere (a sort of spherical solar panel) that would give us more energy than we will ever need within a matter of decades.
George Dvorsky said that by 'taking apart' the whole of Mercury, asteroids and even other planets like Venus we can gather enough material to complete the huge project.
One plan for how Dyson panels might Dyson_Bubble.png
Dvorsky, chair of the US based Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, wrote about his bold, blue skies plan on the organisation's website.
He believes the project can be started in 25 to 50 years and the first phase could be completed within a few decades.

But rather than a solid shell it would be a 'large number of independent constructs orbiting in a dense formation around the sun', which could be built in stages.
These would form a 'receiving surface' around the sun which could absorb the energy from the sun to power the next phase of the project, rather than relying on fuel brought from Earth.
It all sounds well and good but even Dvorsky admits there are a number of hurdles - not least the fact that no astronaut has ever been to Mercury.
Another major issue would be construction.
Dvorsky cites a plan by Oxford University physicist Stuart Armstrong which breaks it down into five 'ten year surges', starting with the assembling of the first array.
But he adds: 'We're going to have to mine materials from Mercury. Actually, we'll likely have to take the whole planet apart.
'The Dyson sphere will require a horrendous amount of material - so much so, in fact, that, should we want to completely envelope the sun, we are going to have to disassemble not just Mercury, but Venus, some of the outer planets, and any nearby asteroids as well'.
The concept of a Dyson sphere, also known as a Dyson shell, was dreamed up by astronomer Freeman Dyson in 1959.
But until now it has been the stuff of science fiction and appeared in books like Hex by writer Allen Steele where it was a gift from an alien race.
Dvorsky writes: 'A Dyson sphere would provide us with more energy than we would ever know what to do with while dramatically increasing our living space.
'Given that our resources here on Earth are starting to dwindle, and combined with the problem of increasing demand for more energy and living space, this would seem to a good long-term plan for our species.'
In his plan however he does not explain how the energy from the Sun could be brought back 93 million miles to Earth.

Dvorsky adds: 'It seems clear that the idea of constructing a Dyson sphere should no longer be relegated to science fiction or our dreams of the deep future.
'Like other speculative projects, like the space elevator or terraforming Mars, we should seriously consider putting this alongside our other near-term plans for space exploration and work.'
  

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