Freeman Dyson may be gone, but his famous alien-hunting idea will likely persist far into the future.
Dyson, a quantum physicist who died at age 96 on Feb. 28, recalled in a 2003 interview just how he first advanced his concept of a “Dyson sphere,” which could betray the existence of an advanced alien civilization. It was via a 1960 article in the journal Science called “Search for Artificial Stellar Sources of Infrared Radiation.”
Dyson wrote the article just as scientists were beginning to search for signs of alien intelligence using radio telescopes. The 1960 piece noted, Dyson said, that radio is a great medium for searching — but only if aliens are willing to communicate. If the aliens remained silent, you would need to look for their heat waste from space, using infrared sensors. “Unfortunately, I added to the end of that remark that what we’re looking for is an artificial biosphere,” Dyson said in the 45-minute interview from 2003, which is on YouTube’s MeaningofLife.tv channel.
He was imagining a swarm of objects that could masquerade as dust from a distance, he added, but his choice of words sparked an accidental legacy.
“The science fiction writers then got hold of it and imagined the biosphere means a sphere — it has to be some big, round ball. And so, out of that, there came these weird notions, which ended up on ‘Star Trek.'”