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A Dyson sphere/swarm/ring is a hypothetical structure an extra-terrestrial entity would construct to collect a large fraction of its host star's light, and would likely generate a fairly strong infrared signature that could potentially be detected by modern infrared surveys (such as WISE). Do we have any meaningful constraints on the existence of these structures within the Milky Way (or beyond) from these surveys? What sorts of natural phenomena could be confused with such structures, if they existed?

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Why would it be 'fairly strong'? Relative to other IR sources, like the star it would be around, wouldn't it more likely be insignificant in comparison? Like the hard-to-pin-down vague boundary of the corona of a red hyper giant? – Jeremy Mar 13 '14 at 11:09
Since the surface collects visible light and then radiates the energy in the infrared, you would probably see 2 superimposed black body curves, one for the host star and one for the object which peaks in the infrared. (Too bad I can't attached an image.) – LDC3 Aug 5 '14 at 1:03
@LDC3 If it was a full-enclosed Dyson sphere, why would there be a black body curve for the host star? – Jeff-Inventor ChromeOS Aug 6 '14 at 18:21
@Jeff-InventorChromeOS A Dyson sphere would only have one black body curve with the peak in the infra-red. I was thinking about a Dyson ring when I posted my statement. – LDC3 Aug 8 '14 at 0:31

Reading Dyson's original argument gives some useful information. He says that such a sphere would have a surface temperature of 200-300 Kelvin. That's a tiny fraction of the surface temperature of a star. Such a sphere would also have to be rather large - he says that it would have to have a circumference the size of Earth's orbit. So we would simply have to look for a massive, cool object radiating very little visible light yet curving space-time just as a star would. Not an easy job, but not impossible.

Besides a black hole, scientists don't know of any other naturally-occurring objects with similar properties. Neutron stars would be insignificantly small, as would other compact stellar remnants (large black holes notwithstanding, but even they could emit different types of radiation). So a Dyson sphere would look completely different when compared to all other objects we know.

Now, Dyson rings, swarms, etc. would be much different. It is possible that a Dyson device consisting of many smaller objects - such as a ring or swarm - could be mistaken for natural objects occurring in a stellar system, such as a dense protoplanetary disk. However, I'm not sure just how much light from the central star such a swarm or ring would let through (quite a lot, I imagine); this could make it easier to distinguish such a device from a typical protoplanetary disk.


I should add that I don't know of any current or planned experiments searching for Dyson spheres; these are simply methods that could be used.

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I think a Dyson sphere is impossible, because nothing can stabilise it against gravitational collapse into the star. A ring rotating at the right rate is better, but a completely different type of thing and can only capture a tiny fraction of the stars energy. – Walter Oct 4 '14 at 13:46
@Walter I agree with you about that. I also think that, gravity neglected, it would be incredibly difficult for a civilization to build any of the above - if I were an astronomer, I wouldn't search for them. But for the purposes of this answer, I decided to just ignore that. – HDE 226868 Oct 4 '14 at 13:57
No serious astronomer does. Those who do, do only because they can market that well with the public and hence get some funding. – Walter Oct 5 '14 at 15:29
@Walter No kidding. I would expect something like this maybe out of SETI, but not of anyone working at somewhere like Mauna Kea. Especially given how hard it can be to get timeslots. – HDE 226868 Oct 5 '14 at 15:30

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