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Solar Astro-Engineering

Intrusive Sun-Stoking Rejuvenation Macroprojects

Richard Brook Cathcart
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The interior of the nearest star, our Sun, may be explored and affected compositionally directly via powerful laser-beams ("swizzle-sticks") and/or by sturdy reporting robotic de-orbiting projectiles ("stirring plummets") that penetrate deeply the Sun's outermost gas layers. Described are two macro-engineering projects to increase the Sun-photosphere output of energy and material; subsequently, it is planned, the entire Solar System will be beneficially influenced. Planetary (geo-engineered, or terraformed) and space-faring (Dyson shell-dwelling) intelligent life forms resident hereabouts someday will desire to possess the technologies for timely instigation of long-term star-modification (true astroengineering) which involve anthropogenic mixing.

1. Introduction

The Sun's formation, composition, and sources of energy are of profound relevance to science's truthful documentation of the Universe. The Sun's ever-changing flux of photons, particles and plasma defines the dynamic environment to which Earth responds and adjusts1. Foreseeing the Sun's astronomical future has also become a scientific quest2. The Sun encompasses more than 99.8% of the Solar System's mass and it serves science as a model of "normalcy" relative to all other main sequence stars in the known Universe.

2. Sun change forecast

Calculations boldly anticipate the Sun's shifting from its current spectral type (G2 V) to a Mira star-like red giant-stage stellar object3. Considerable scientific uncertainty still remains about this solar change theory, especially that phase which deals with Earth's survival/non-survival as an intact, but uninhabited, celestial object. Evidently, all of the terrestrial-type planets of this Solar System will undergo either vaporization or extreme whole planet heating in the far-term future.

3. Heliosphere measurements

Space age science has directly measured the solar wind and is now developing a comprehensive theory of space-weather4. Our Sun's "... heliosphere is an ideal astrophysical laboratory, wherein one can observe in situ the elementary mechanisms involved in the particle acceleration processes"5. Natural solid small celestial objects have been recorded colliding with the Sun's photosphere6; an anthropogenic solid object recently exited the Sun's heliosphere7.

4. LASER characteristics

The vacuum of interplanetary space is the ideal environment for propagating electromagnetic radiation since virtually all frequencies propagate with essentially the same low attenuation. The laser (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation) is a device that converts mixed frequency radiation into a discrete frequency of highly enhanced and coherent visible radiation; thus, a recoilless laser device is a source of optical radiation – stimulated emission of light that is nearly monochromatic – that has exploitable characteristics8. The coherence of the light beam permits the beam to propagate long distances with little dispersion and to be focused on a small area. The projected light beam travels at the speed of light and can be either continuous ("continuous wave", CW) or pulsed. It can be directed and its energy adjusted to the needs of its wielder9. Scheduled explosions have been initiated by laser ignition techniques10. Although a laser beam has zero mass, when it impinges on the solid or gaseous target the intruding laser beam must be absorbed to cause an observable effect. After laser ranging retro-reflectors were first installed on the Moon in 1969, laser beams have been "bounced" off the surface of Earth's natural satellite to measure its exact distance from Earth at various times during its revolution11 . A solar-powered Global Lunar Power Grid is contemplated to be operational by AD 2050. Therefore, a powerful laser device could be installed on the Moon that could probe the Sun after traveling ~1 AU through interplanetary space; the Sun is a gaseous object, mostly hydrogen, containing ~12 × 1056 atoms. Currently, the greatest power density of a pulsed laser on a spot target achieved is ~0.85 × 1022 W/cm2; the light pressure of the beam exceeds ~30 petapascals, or ~300 × 109 greater than Earth's sea-level air pressure! Laser-induced nuclear physics experts hope soon to replicate in the laboratory the conditions inside the Sun12. A laser beam traveling towards the Sun will become significantly affected by that massive object's gravity (light bending) as well as by its natural solar energy and material output (solar wind, flares, coronal mass ejections, etc.).

5. Asteroid characteristics

Minor planet 12343 (1993 DT1), "martinbeech", and minor planet 9631 (1993 SL6), "hubertreeves", honor two astronomical scientists whose ongoing research is most relevant to our report. Hubert Reeves, in chapter 11 of Atoms of Silence: An Exploration of Cosmic Evolution (MIT Press, 1984, pages 122-124) speculated on two macroprojects intended to revive a dying Sun, which is illustrated by his Figure 40.
"Recall that the Sun obtains its energy by burning hydrogen into helium. The nuclear reactions responsible for this fusion take place where temperature is highest, at the center of the Sun. About 50 percent of this central hydrogen has already been transformed in this hot region. Yet there will remain vast masses of unburned hydrogen between the core and the solar surface. This is, in a sense, a malfunction in the machinery of the Sun. A 'pump' is needed to circulate the fuel and to help rid the central furnace of the ashes of the fusion process. We could in this way prolong the life of the Sun from 10 billion years to about 100 billion years! For this project we must "stir" the material of the Sun periodically, much as one stirs a cup of coffee to mix the sugar and the liquid, or, even better, as one revives a campfire by pushing wood from the periphery into the hot coals at the center. To do this we must create a hot spot between the center and the surface, a little outside the fusion zone. I can see two possibilities. The first is to detonate super hydrogen bombs. With today's bombs we have already created temperatures much higher than those in the Sun's heart. The problem is to get the bombs to their intended destination without vaporizing along the way. Here I am out of fresh ideas. But, after all, we have plenty of time to think about it. The second possibility is to aim a powerful, extremely concentrated laser beam at the solar surface. Here again, though, we must face the problem of assuring that the energy is not dissipated too soon."
Hubert Reeves' Macroproject #1 is here labeled "Plummet Stirrer" and Macroproject #2 is referred to as "Swizzle-stick Stoker". Since the Sun rotates, both macroprojects offer schedulable direct mixing of all materials exterior to the Sun's core and within the Sun's photosphere. So far, astronomer Martin Beech is the only person who has examined Reeves' suggested true astro-engineering macroprojects at length in an appropriate scientific journal13. Both astronomers hope to make intelligent life forms immune (for a great period) to normal stellar evolution via an astro-engineering process of super-core star homogenization! Beech has suggested that some blue stragglers may be artificially rejuvenated stars14.

6. Plummet Stirrer ("Macroproject #1")

Asteroids naturally plunge into the Sun. Astronomical observations of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 as it fell into Jupiter, generating huge gaseous plumes, presents us with a few clues as to how the Sun's photosphere might behave if we deliberately direct an asteroid to crash into it. (The luminosity of the Sun [~3.83 × 1033 erg/s] implies a loss of mass from the fusion cycle of >2 × 1012 g/s radiated in every direction.) It has been proposed that surplus weapons plutonium and other highly concentrated wastes might be packaged and accelerated to ~30 km/s in a direction opposite to Earth's orbital motion, ultimately, being transmuted by the Sun15. To test the efficacy of either or both macro-engineering concepts, we need not obtain an asteroid from the asteroid belt because an industrially useful 20 m-diameter asteroid 2003 YN107, "the first object known to currently be a quasi-satellite of the Earth", is conveniently nearby and can be harvested16! Helioseismic measurements during and after splashdown will help to constrain our Sun reaction theory since it gives alert astronomers the opportunity to image the interior of our Sun.

Circa 2300 AD, hard science fiction novelist Glen David Brin (born 1950) has Earthlings undertake "Expedition Sundiver", a manned "Sunship" trip into the Sun's chromosphere. Nowadays, astronomers hope a Solar Probe spacecraft will be launched to explore the region of Solar System space within 0.014 AU of the Sun17. As presently configured18, the Solar Probe would be conically shaped – rather like an ablative nuclear warhead nosecone of an ICBM that protectively enshrouds delicate electronics and chemical explosives – to shade the reporting robotic projectile's internal electronics and, also, to create a wake-shield behind the Solar Probe that is relatively free of damaging high-energy particles. As the Solar Probe enters the Sun's photosphere it must be capable of withstanding the sustained temperature of several thousand degrees kelvin, rapid alterations in the ambient magnetic field, induced electrical currents, and secondary electron showers generated by charged particles striking the machine's electronic components! Approximately 99.5% of the Sun's light emerges from the top of its photosphere where the temperature is ~4465 K. The fusion process within the Sun commences somewhere between 0.29% and 0.46% of the star's radius.

7. Swizzle-stick Stoker ("Macroproject #2")

How special is our Solar System? That is an important question not yet fully answered by science19. Astronomy and macro-engineering have traditionally been pursued in conventional observatories and laboratories and on theorists' computers. Intense, focused lasers can be utilized to study thermodynamic properties of star-replicating artificial plasmas. Images of Coulomb balls composed of aligned, concentric shells of polymer balls (aka, "plasma crystals") constructed and surviving in a 40,000 K artificial plasma has been documented20. But, there are awesome gravitational, magnetic, and material/energy flows emanating from the Sun that could readily distort a laser beam aimed at it. In terms of true astro-engineering, what has been missing until recently is any ability of astronomers and macro-engineers to regularly test thermodynamic theories and actual prospective spacecraft equipment (such as the anticipated Solar Probe and its active payload) in an experimental setting where the initial and final states are characterized fully and completely documented in useful detail.

8. Plasma Immersion Test-site

The normal body temperature of a living human is ~310.15 K. Startech Environmental Corp. (founded 1993) in Wilton, Connecticut, USA commercially manufactures a "Plasma Converter System" capable of reaching sustained temperatures of ~16,922 K21! (For comparison, the estimated maximum temperature at the base of the 400 km-thick Sun photosphere is ~7610 K.) Their furnace, nicknamed "The Destroyatron"22 can, quite simply, dissociate anything put into its electrically heated central cavity wherein, on command, it instigates Sun photosphere-like conditions safely contained within its well-insulated stable structure housed in an ordinary industrial building. Startech's "Destroyatron" may be the ideal industrial facility instrument located on Earth for future rigorous testing of Solar Probe heat shields, its delicate broadcasting contents, as well as the real-world plasma penetration characteristics of laser beams of various frequencies. If all equipment feasibility and operability testing is satisfactorily concluded on Earth, then we expect that all further efforts for these Sun-stoking macroprojects will be moved to the Moon where a headquarters can be simultaneously established for "Macroproject #1" and "Macroproject #2" that will eventuate in a stirring of the Sun.

9. Terraforming precedent for true Astro-engineering option

Freeman John Dyson, while working on the USA's Project Orion (1957-65) – the planning effort to design a huge spacecraft propelled by series of external nuclear fission explosions – proffered "Project Deluge" as a technically feasible method to terraform Mars23. Since a 400 m-diameter Super-Orion spaceship, with a maximum potential mass of ~8 × 106 tonnes, can be launched from Earth's surface if the vehicle can sustain propellant velocity of ~60 km/s, it was conceivable that a Super-Orion carrier could convey ocean-extracted Earthly seawater to Mars in bulk! Dumped on Mars it could help to make Mars into a place more clement and suitable for humans. It was a naive idea24, but one which follows naturally from NASA's experiments with the Highwater missions of 25 April 1962 and 16 November 1962, during which approximately 109,000 liters of ballast freshwater was released into Earth's upper atmosphere (105 to 167 km altitude) each flight. Poor NASA telemetry negated the effort to monitor cloud-formation from dispersed ice particles. Unlike the period before 1970, 21st century Mars terraforming proposals are likely to be stymied by Green radicals. The concept of "Planetary Parks" – regions in Earth25, Mars and even on the Moon preserved by human laws as places of natural beauty or historical interest – has been announced26. Any terraforming project for Mars like "Project Deluge" can be viewed as a precursor to anticipated true astro-engineering macroprojects affecting our Sun.

10. Cosmic carousel ride

About 1918, Harlow Shapley (1885-1972) was the first astronomer to accurately estimate the size and position of our Milky Way Galaxy. Fritz Zwicky (1898-1974), during 1948, proposed a reconstruction and reconfiguration of our Solar System by changing the orbits of its planets and other satellites with respect to the Sun. Our Solar System has ~1.7 × 109 km2 of solid surface, with Earth alone offering almost 33%; all told, the variously shaped solid satellites of our Solar System represent ~0.000000000000003% of the spherical volume occupied by the Solar System that is controlled by our Sun's gravisphere. During the Sun's lifetime, so far, it has consumed a mass of materials approximating the current Earth's mass and, in the process, reduced its own diameter by about the Earth's present-day diameter.

Science is uncertain whether our Sun's close-range observable covering (glowing gaseous envelope) truly indicates exactly the Sun's interior composition 27; future intrusive macroprojects outlined above may either confirm or refute many accepted scientific facts concerning its structure.


1. M. A. Clilverd et al., "Solar activity levels in 2100", Astronomy and Geophysics 44: 20-22 (2003).

2. G. Perrin et al., "Unveiling Mira stars behind the molecules: confirmation of the molecular layer model with narrow band near-infrared interferometry", Astronomy and Astrophysics 426: 279-296 (2004)

3. K-P Schroder et al., "Solar evolution and the distant future of the Earth", Astronomy and Geophysics 42: 26-29 (2001).

4. G. Siscoe, "The space-weather enterprise: past, present, and future", Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics 62: 1223-1232 (2000).

5. T. Terasawa and M. Scholer, "The Heliosphere as an Astrophysical Laboratory for Particle Acceleration", Science 244: 1050 (1989).

6. P. Farinella et al., "Asteroids falling into the Sun", Nature 371: 314-317 (1994).

7. S. M. Krimigis et al., "Voyager I exited the solar wind at a distance of ~85 AU from the Sun", Nature 426: 45-48 (2003).

8. A. E. Reines and G. W. Marcy, "Optical Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence: A Spectroscopic Search for Laser Emission from Nearby Stars", Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific 114: 416-426 (2002).

9. K. W. D. Ledingham, P. McKenna and R. P. Singhal, "Applications for Nuclear Phenomena Generated by Ultra-Intense Lasers", Science 300: 1107-1111 (2003).

10. N. K. Bourne, "On the laser ignition and initiation of explosives", Proceedings of the Royal Society (London) 457: 1401-1426 (2001).

11. J. O. Dickey et al., "Lunar laser ranging: A continuing legacy of the Apollo Program", Science 265: 482-490 (1994).

12. S. J. Rose, "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun", Contemporary Physics 45: 109-121 (2004).

13. M. Beech, "Aspects of an Astroengineering Option", Journal of the British Interplanetary Society 46: 317-322 (1993).

14. M. Beech, "Blue Stragglers as Indicators of Extraterrestrial Civilizations?", Earth, Moon and Planets 49: 177-186 (1990).

15. M. Moore, "A waste of space?", Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 57: 6-7 (2001).

16. M. Connors et al., "Discovery of Earth's quasi-satellite", Meteoritics & Planetary Science 39: 1251-1255 (2004).

17. Go to: "Solar Probe: Humanity's First Visit to Our Star".

18. Go to: "NASA rethinks probe to the Sun", a 22 July 2004 BBC news story by Paul Rincon.

19. G. Tokowsky, "Sol Invictus: Heliophilic Elements in Early Russian Space Flight Theory", Journal of the British Interplanetary Society 56: 137-143 (2003).

20. Oliver Arp et al., "Dust Coulomb Balls: Three-Dimensional Plasma Crystals", Physical Review Letters 93: 165004 (15 October 2004).

21. Go to: "Startech Environmental Corp".

22. S. F. Brown, "Test-Driving the Destroyatron", Fortune 149: 62-63 (3 May 2004).

23. G. Dyson, Project Orion: THE True Story of the Atomic Spaceship (2002), page 94.

24. P. L. Read and S. R. Lewis, The Martian Climate Revisited: Atmosphere and Environment of a Desert Planet (2004), pages 279-289.

25. Murray Gray, Geodiversity: Valuing and Conserving Abiotic Nature (2004) 434 pages.

26. C. Cockell and G. Horneck, "A Planetary Park System for Mars", Space Policy 20: 291-295 (November 2004).

27. Oliver Manual, "Plasma Diffuser Sorts Light Atoms to Solar Surface", posted 10 February 2005.