Alderson disk

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A schematic illustration of an Alderson disk

An Alderson disk (named after Dan Alderson, its originator) is a hypothetical artificial astronomical megastructure; like Larry Niven's Ringworld, or a Dyson sphere. The disk is a giant platter with a thickness of several thousand miles. The sun rests in the hole at the center of the disk. The outer perimeter of an Alderson disk would be roughly equivalent to the orbit of Mars or Jupiter. According to the proposal, a sufficiently massive disk would have a larger mass than its sun.

The hole would be surrounded by a thousand-mile-high wall to prevent the atmosphere from drifting into the sun. The outer rim would take care of itself.

Close to its surface, the gravity of the disk would closely approximate that of an infinite flat plate, for which gravity is perpendicular to the surface. Near the inner and outer edges of the plate, edge effects would become significant.

The mechanical stresses within the disc would be far beyond what any known material can stand, thus relegating such a structure to the realm of exploratory engineering until materials and construction science become sufficiently advanced. Building a megastructure of this magnitude would require an amount of material that far surpasses the amount of material found in our solar system. Another option in the way of heliocentric habitats is the Dyson Sphere proposed by Freeman Dyson, it could be scaled up to use roughly the same amount of usable material in the solar system if the sphere were 8–20 cm thick and had a radius of 1 AU to keep the edge of the habitat in the habitable zone.

Life could exist on either side of the disk, though close to the sun the heat would make life impossible without protection. Conversely, further away from the sun living beings would freeze. Therefore, for the entirety of such a structure to be made habitable, it would have to include a vast number of life support systems.

Because the sun remains stationary, there is no day/night cycle, only a perpetual twilight. This could be solved by forcing the sun to bob up and down within the disk, lighting first one side then the other.[1]

In popular culture[edit]

In 1974, the science fiction writer Larry Niven suggested that an Alderson disk "would be a wonderful place to stage a Gothic or swords-and-sorcery novel. The atmosphere is right, and there are real monsters." Because the zone habitable by humans is relatively narrow, the disc (and the cost of its construction) could be shared with aliens from hotter and colder planets. Over long periods of time, lifeforms would evolve to settle the sparsely-inhabited regions inbetween. "If civilization should fall, things could get eerie and interesting."[1]

An Alderson disk (the Godwheel) was a prominent feature of Malibu Comics' Ultraverse. The Godwheel was split between two societies, one which used technology and one which used magic (each occupied its own side of the disk). Larry Niven designed the Godwheel, and wrote stories surrounding certain events on it.

Rak Mesba is a partial ancient alien Alderson Disk in Orion's Arm, a multi-authored online science fiction world-building project.

A disk-shaped planet similar to an Alderson disk (though far smaller) served as the home world of the fantasy "Aysle" setting (or "cosm") of West End Games' Torg roleplaying game. In contrast with the Alderson disk, the Aysle "diskworld" works according to fantasy physics, including a "gravity plane" that bisects the disk laterally, so that opposite sides "fall" towards the plane. The diskworld of Aysle had a bobbing sun and multiple inner layers. Both sides of the disk were inhabited, as were the internal layers.

In Charles Stross's Missile Gap, a copy of the whole Earth (along with copies of many other planets) is placed on an Alderson disk built around a black hole by ASBs.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Niven, Larry (1974). "Bigger Than Worlds". A Hole in Space. New York: Ballantine Books. pp. 123–124. ASIN B002B1MS6U.  This essay was first published in Analog magazine (1974), and is also anthologised in Playgrounds of the Mind.

See also[edit]