Stephen Gaskell is a British science fiction writer whose work has been published in Nature, Interzone, and Clarkesworld. A graduate of the Clarion East writing workshop, he recently released Strata, co-written with Bradley P. Beaulieu.
In many ways the interior of a star would be an ideal place to live for an advanced species. A near limitless source of energy. Camouflage from interstellar predators. And sunshine three hundred and sixty five days a year.
In our new novella, Strata, Bradley P. Beaulieu and I didn’t travel so far into the future that humankind had migrated to the sun, but we did imagine giant solar mining platforms that orbit through the sun’s chromosphere. Of course, at present such a feat of engineering is beyond the technological and economic reach of humanity, but we wondered if this might one day be a scientifically feasible enterprise. Here are 10 features of the extremely hostile solar environment that had to be overcome:
You might think your boss is putting you under enormous pressure for next week’s deadline, but it ain’t got a patch on the kind of stress that the center of the sun’s under. At its core, the pressure of the sun is equal to 340 billion times the Earth’s surface atmospheric pressure. That’s a lot of elephants standing on your head. Fortunately for the future of humankind’s solar mining adventures, the sun’s internal structure is not uniform. The outer regions from the photosphere up (the chromosphere and corona) are actually very thin, with pressures generally 1% or less of Earth’s surface atmospheric pressure. Still, I wouldn’t hang out there.
The sun’s big. Big like you can’t imagine. You thought Jupiter was big, but the sun makes Jupiter look like some snotty-nosed Mummy’s boy on his first day at school. And what does all that matter do? It does what gravity tells it, creating one serious gravitational well about which the planets orbit like toy ducks around a discharging plughole. Mercury completes one whole orbit every eighty-eight days. The orbital period for a mining platform situated in the sun’s chromosphere would be around one-tenth of a day. That’s a fair zip! And there’s an additional problem; any solar miners would be effectively weightless in the freefall orbit—the mass of the platform being negligible compared to a planet or moon.
In a fixed position the problem would be worse, the surface gravity of the sun some 28 times greater than the Earth. Even fighter pilots get nowhere near those g-forces. In the best traditions of science fiction we came up with an as yet undiscovered technology: gravity inhibitors, an idea first floated (ahem) in H.G. Wells’ The First Men in the Moon with Dr. Cavor’s invention of the fictional material cavorite.