Mar 3, 2012

Stellar Engineering

This is the third blog post in a series about a sequel for the science fiction novel Assignment Nor'Dyren by Sydney Van Scyoc. I previously mentioned the fact that the world Re^Ens was colonized by artificial life forms, but Re^Ens was not in orbit around a star. Maybe that depends on what the definition of "star" is.

There is a fuzzy boundary between "planet" and "star". Stars are "born" when a large volume of gravitationally-confined plasma is heated by nuclear fusion. Brown dwarfs are at the boundary between large planets and small stars.

In Arthur Clarke's novel 2010: Odyssey Two, space aliens with advanced technology are able to convert Jupiter into a star. How would that be possible? Clarke had the idea that: "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic", but as far as we know, to make a star at the position of Jupiter would require one of two things. 1) Some kind of "magical" way to compress the hydrogen of Jupiter and maintain that compression against the expansive force of the fusion that would power the star, or 2) Some "magical" way to add enough mass to Jupiter so that gravitational confinement would sustain the fusion. Maybe Clarke imagined a combination of these two strategies or something else that would be a third kind of magic (advanced technology).

In my imagined sequel to Assignment Nor'Dyren, the world Pes^Cro is very similar to Earth and orbits a star that is similar to the Sun. Life on Pes^Cro is chemically very similar to life as we know it on Earth and the Huaoshy have engineered a form of intelligent humanoids on Pes^Cro and guided them towards space travel long before humans ever developed a technological civilization. Millions of years ago the tool-using humanoid inhabitants of Pes^Cro created artificial life forms and sent those ALFs out in spacecraft to colonize distant worlds. Unlike biologicals, the ALFs did not care if those newly colonized worlds were in orbit around a nice warm star. One such colony world is Re^Ens.

Brown dwarfs have some heat and some people have speculated about the habitable zones of brown dwarfs and the likelihood of planets in orbit around brown dwarfs (example). Astronomers keep developing better tools for observing low temperature objects, and it is not clear what the density within our galaxy is for brown dwarfs and "rogue planets" not in orbit around stars. We don't know the typical distance from a star like our Sun to the nearest brown dwarf, but we can imagine a Sun-like star for which there might be good reasons to send ALF colonists to a nearby brown dwarf rather than to a nearby star.

Star formation by collision of brown dwarfs is a theoretical possibility (example). I'm thinking that the Huaoshy might help create a star near Re^Ens for the biological "pets" of the ALFs who live on Re^Ens. There might be places in the galaxy with a high density of brown dwarfs and a technologically advanced spacefaring civilization might undertake the task of engineering the collision of two brown dwarfs to create a small star. Binary brown dwarfs that are gravitationally bound to each other are not rare and there should be other pairs of Brown dwarfs that might naturally be on trajectories that will bring them close together. Given planning and a long lead time, it might be possible to deflect the paths of two brown dwarfs so as to cause a collision. The world B^Ta is in orbit around such a "created star" and becomes a new central world from which Allegon, Berregon and Gonnegon colonists are sent out on slow, multigeneration colony ships.

I imagine that the Huaoshy might use our galaxy like a garden. Humanoid species could be guided towards technological maturation so as to have a large number of humanoid species from various star systems form a political unit such as Civilized Unity in Assignment Nor'Dyren. However, given the chance to "create a new star" by engineering the collision of two brown dwarfs, the Huaoshy might allow a nearby humanoid species to develop space travel technology at a time not synchronized with the development of other nearby humanoid species. Pes^Cro could be such a "special treatment" world, and technological developments there might ultimately lead to the "Galactic Empire" mentioned in Assignment Nor'Dyren.

A remaining question is, why did the "Galactic Empire" that originated from Pes^Cro ultimately fail and become defunct? I think it will work to assume that the basic problem with this "Empire" was that it never had faster-than-light space travel. It might be a basic theorem of technological civilizations that without cheap and efficient faster-than-light space travel, no stable "Galactic Empire" is possible. Technological cultures that start to spread from world to world using slower-than-light colony ships will be dominated by artificial life forms that have a high rate of cultural divergence. Each world in the "Empire" will develop along its own idiosyncratic path and there will be no real possibility of a sustainable, unified interstellar Empire.

It might also be the case that discovery of the technology that can support faster-than-light space travel is very difficult. If so, then the first technologically advanced species to obtain that technology might, by default, become the Huaoshy, the one species that successfully spreads through the stars, and in so doing, contaminates and "absorbs" all other humanoid species that it encounters. This solution to the Fermi Paradox runs counter to assumptions that are popular among those who try to resolve the Fermi Paradox. For example, in "Fermi’s Paradox – The Last Challenge for Copernicanism?", Milan Cirkovi assumes that it is "obvious" that Earth has not been colonized. This is "obvious" only if you adopt certain assumptions about what would happen during colonization of a world by a species like the Huaoshy. For humans embedded in Western culture, colonization usually means what happened when Europeans colonized the "New World" of the Americas. That style of colonization is biased by the fact that humans recently evolved on a small planet. For humans on Earth, there was never any chance for a millions-of-years-duration divergence in cultural development. There is the opportunity for such a divergence between humanoid species evolving on various planets scattered among the billions of galaxies in the universe. Intuitions and expectations about "colonization" and "first contact" that are built upon only our limited human experience are likely to be laughably inadequate for anticipating the behavior of technologically advanced civilizations that are hundreds of millions of years old.

While adopting some conventional assumptions, Cirkovi has also questioned other conventional assumptions about the "inevitable" features of "Galactic Empires" (see: "Against the Empire"). I wonder if there is a "theorem" along these lines: "If a solution to the Fermi Paradox does not seem magical and unexpected then then it is probably wrong." I think scientists have trouble stepping outside of the box of our conventional ways of thinking. Speculative fiction allows us to explore alternative solutions to the Fermi Paradox that are motivated mainly by the desire to create a fun story. Assignment Nor'Dyren is a fun story and it deserves a fun fan fiction sequel.

In Assignment Nor'Dyren Sydney Van Scyoc created an interesting puzzle about the origin of the Qattagon. Interesting beings like the Qattagon cry out for an interesting and unique history and it seems appropriate if the Huaoshy must bring into play all of their hundreds-of-millions-years-old technologies (including their stellar engineering skills) in order to account for the Qattagon.

Images. Top: star sizes by NASA and SeRgio. Twin brown dwarfs from NASA/JPL-Caltech by way of Astrobiology Magazine.

Related reading. Sometimes I wonder if science fiction novels are being replaced by internet conspiracy websites. Nibiru.
Science fact

Old review. I originally assumed that the Qattagon had been designed to be reproductively sterile. However, I now think it makes for a more interesting story if during the long and twisting history of the "under-races" they lost the ability to produce fertile Qattagon. This also means that it will be relatively easy to correct the genetic changes that prevent Qattagon from being fertile.
Even older and longer review.

Related: more fictional stellar engineering.

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