Innumerable as the Starrs of Night,
Or Starrs of Morning,
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Impearls
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Earthdate 2003-11-19

Big Trees questioned

A discussion of Freeman Dyson's “The World, The Flesh, and The Devil” has been underway on a science fiction discussion group, whence an article similar to Impearls' earlier piece on Big Trees had appeared.  A participant in the group, poor soul, voiced some hesitation in jumping wholesale on-board the cometary express:

I find this idea interesting but a bit bewildering.  The total lack of energy available would be the problem.

Dyson discusses “compound leaves” for collecting the light of a distant sun.  Or place an immense (though spiderweb-light) parabolic mirror so comet + foliage are at the focus, to concentrate the light of the nearest star.  If one is so remote that even that won't do (and I've attempted no calculations to try to identify what distance that might be) — well, there are such things as fusion reactors to illuminate the vast interior space, which ought to do wonders.  It's hard to credit claims of lack of energy when every gram of matter contains mc2.

Life could even be migrated to low-temperature carbon compounds which could live slower and colder in the light between the stars.

The exchange continues:

This paper was presented at the 1973 CETI conference.  In the discussion, chaired by Sagan, the following exchange (on comets);

TOWNES:  … I don't understand why they in their present form would be suitable for advanced civilisations.  Could you explain this a little more?

DYSON:  They have, of course, the advantage that you can get away from your government.  But aside from that they have the advantage of just being abundant; they are the largest available living space that we know about.

GOLD:  … Close to the sun you would have huge ball-up.

DYSON:  You just don't go close to the sun.

Yes, if comets (or more properly, cometary nuclei) go too close — closer to the sun, say, than Jupiter — they'll eventually burn up as, well, comets.  So, as Dyson says, you just don't bring them that close to the, or any, sun.

But if comets are so common between the stars perhaps they could used as facilities, or even fuel pellets, for starships.

Sure, if you want to use up primary real estate.  There are enough of them to burn for some of that, no doubt.  But the idea of just tearing through those worlds — so few and far between as it is between the stars — just so one can get to the thousand-times-smaller area planetary systems at a million-times-greater remove is, I think, misplaced priorities.  The comets, in my view, are the (major) destination.



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