How to dominate the universe in three easy steps …
Step 1: Harvest all of your planet’s resources.
Step 2: Harvest all of your nearest star’s energy.
Step 3: Harvest all the energy from all the stars in your local galaxy; then move on to another galaxy.
Congratulations! Your species now has all the elbow room it needs to grow into a universal superpower.
That’s one Russian astronomer’s perspective, anyway. Astrophysicist Nikolai Kardashev first proposed these three phases (called Level I, II and III) of galactic expansion — which he referred to as the three “types” of technologically advanced civilizations — in 1962 as a way to measure the energy consumption of increasingly powerful societies. Recently, a paper posted June 13 to the preprint journal arXiv.org has revived Kardashev’s model and added a new, apocalyptic twist. [13 Ways to Hunt Intelligent Aliens]
According to the author of the paper, Dan Hooper — a senior scientist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois and a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of Chicago — harvesting energy from distant stars isn’t just the best way to increase a civilization’s available resources. It’s also the only way to prevent the ever-expanding universe from leaving that civilization totally alone in the vastness of space. (This study has yet to be peer-reviewed.)
“The presence of dark energy in our universe is causing space to expand at an accelerating rate,” Hooper wrote in the new paper. Over the next approximately 100 billion years, the stars beyond our Local Group, or a group of gravitationally bound galaxies that includes the Milky Way, will fall beyond the cosmic horizon, meaning an observer here could never retrieve information from them over the course of the age of the universe.
At that point, “the stars become not only unobservable, but entirely inaccessible, thus limiting how much energy could one day be extracted from them,” Hooper wrote in the paper.
In other words, if humans hope to meet aliens in distant galaxies, it’ll be a race against dark energy, that mysterious force thought to be uncontrollably stretching our universe farther and farther apart.