Dyson Sphere / Ringworld (in)stability
Moderators: gmalivuk, Moderators General, Prelates

 Posts: 185
 Joined: Thu May 27, 2010 3:42 pm UTC
Dyson Sphere / Ringworld (in)stability
A recent topic discussed that in the center of a metal sphere / shell in the middle of the earth, gravitational forces on an object cancel out perfectly due to Gauss' Law even if the object is off center. I haven't done the math, but this made sense to me.
Thinking about this more, I took away the earth and enlarged the metal sphere into a Dyson Sphere. This brought me to the conclusion that a Dyson Sphere exerts no net gravitational force on the star in the center. It seems logical and all, but then I thought about the Ringworld, and the whole 'Ringworld is Unstable' issue.
Now, I don't know how Gauss' Law applies to a ring compared to a sphere, but it seems like the net gravitational force at the center of a ring would also be zero. As would the net gravitational force for an object that is offcenter. Please correct me if I'm wrong about this assumption, but I don't see why a ring would be different than a sphere / shell.
Niven wrote in (i believe) Ringworld Engineers about how the slightest instability in the ring would result in a tiny net gravitational force that would grow and pull the ring farther off center until it hit the star. This was the point of the book  engines around the edge of the ring needed to be restored and the ring had to be recentered using solar flares.
But if an object in the center / offcenter of a ring experiences no net gravitational force, I don't see why the ring would get pulled farther and farther off center. You would basically have a system of two independent objects flying in close formation, and to move as massive an object as the Ringworld would take incredible amounts of energy and / or time, not the 20 years given in the book.
Does anyone know what I'm getting wrong here? Is it just that the rules for a 2d Ring and 3d Sphere / Shell are different?
Thinking about this more, I took away the earth and enlarged the metal sphere into a Dyson Sphere. This brought me to the conclusion that a Dyson Sphere exerts no net gravitational force on the star in the center. It seems logical and all, but then I thought about the Ringworld, and the whole 'Ringworld is Unstable' issue.
Now, I don't know how Gauss' Law applies to a ring compared to a sphere, but it seems like the net gravitational force at the center of a ring would also be zero. As would the net gravitational force for an object that is offcenter. Please correct me if I'm wrong about this assumption, but I don't see why a ring would be different than a sphere / shell.
Niven wrote in (i believe) Ringworld Engineers about how the slightest instability in the ring would result in a tiny net gravitational force that would grow and pull the ring farther off center until it hit the star. This was the point of the book  engines around the edge of the ring needed to be restored and the ring had to be recentered using solar flares.
But if an object in the center / offcenter of a ring experiences no net gravitational force, I don't see why the ring would get pulled farther and farther off center. You would basically have a system of two independent objects flying in close formation, and to move as massive an object as the Ringworld would take incredible amounts of energy and / or time, not the 20 years given in the book.
Does anyone know what I'm getting wrong here? Is it just that the rules for a 2d Ring and 3d Sphere / Shell are different?
Re: Dyson Sphere / Ringworld (in)stability
It's not the gravity of the ring or sphere that's the problem; it's the gravity of the star in the middle.
Microevolution is a term — when used by creationists — that is the evolutionary equivalent of the belief that the mechanism you use to walk from your bedroom to the kitchen is insufficient to get you from New York to Los Angeles.
Re: Dyson Sphere / Ringworld (in)stability
Fortunately Newton's third law takes care of that.Mr_Rose wrote:It's not the gravity of the ring or sphere that's the problem; it's the gravity of the star in the middle.
You are wrong about this assumption. Go through how the fact about spheres is derived and see how it doesn't apply to a ring.Levelheaded wrote:Now, I don't know how Gauss' Law applies to a ring compared to a sphere, but it seems like the net gravitational force at the center of a ring would also be zero. As would the net gravitational force for an object that is offcenter. Please correct me if I'm wrong about this assumption, but I don't see why a ring would be different than a sphere / shell.
Jerry Bona wrote:The Axiom of Choice is obviously true; the Well Ordering Principle is obviously false; and who can tell about Zorn's Lemma?
Re: Dyson Sphere / Ringworld (in)stability
antonfire wrote:You are wrong about this assumption. Go through how the fact about spheres is derived and see how it doesn't apply to a ring.Levelheaded wrote:Now, I don't know how Gauss' Law applies to a ring compared to a sphere, but it seems like the net gravitational force at the center of a ring would also be zero. As would the net gravitational force for an object that is offcenter. Please correct me if I'm wrong about this assumption, but I don't see why a ring would be different than a sphere / shell.
I think that if, instead of a ring, you were inside an infinitely long cylinder, then the equivalent of Gauss' Law would apply. You'd need an infinitely large universe for that however.
 skeptical scientist
 closedminded spiritualist
 Posts: 6139
 Joined: Tue Nov 28, 2006 6:09 am UTC
 Location: San Francisco
Re: Dyson Sphere / Ringworld (in)stability
Levelheaded wrote:Now, I don't know how Gauss' Law applies to a ring compared to a sphere, but it seems like the net gravitational force at the center of a ring would also be zero.
This is true.
As would the net gravitational force for an object that is offcenter.
This is false. The net gravitational force for an object that is off center is nonzero, and points towards the closest point of the ring. So the ring and the star pull each other more and more offcenter, until they collide.
Please correct me if I'm wrong about this assumption, but I don't see why a ring would be different than a sphere / shell.
The difference is that gravity is a 1/r^{2} force, while the surface area at distance r of a 2dimensional object inside a certain solid angle goes as r^{2}. The fact that these exactly cancel is what balances the gravitational forces from a sphere so that they all cancel out in the interior. However, this balance doesn't happen with a ring, so the nearer parts of the ring provide more of a pull than the more distant parts, resulting in a net force towards the closest point.
I'm looking forward to the day when the SNES emulator on my computer works by emulating the elementary particles in an actual, physical box with Nintendo stamped on the side.
"With math, all things are possible." —Rebecca Watson
"With math, all things are possible." —Rebecca Watson
 BlackSails
 Posts: 5305
 Joined: Thu Dec 20, 2007 5:48 am UTC
Re: Dyson Sphere / Ringworld (in)stability
Couldnt you make it work with a ring with a variable density?
 doogly
 Dr. The Juggernaut of Touching Himself
 Posts: 4847
 Joined: Mon Oct 23, 2006 2:31 am UTC
 Location: Somerville, MA
 Contact:
Re: Dyson Sphere / Ringworld (in)stability
Nope, that could only fix the stability in one direction. If you have a small perturbation 'north,' you keep getting pulled 'north.' If you fix this with some cleverness (I'm not even sure that's possible, but let's say it is) then you certainly have just made the problem worse for a small perturbation 'south.'
LE4dGOLEM: What's a Doug?
Noc: A larval Doogly. They grow the tail and stinger upon reaching adulthood.
Keep waggling your butt brows Brothers.
Or; Is that your eye butthairs?
Noc: A larval Doogly. They grow the tail and stinger upon reaching adulthood.
Keep waggling your butt brows Brothers.
Or; Is that your eye butthairs?
 Sockmonkey
 Posts: 1211
 Joined: Thu Jul 24, 2008 11:30 pm UTC
Re: Dyson Sphere / Ringworld (in)stability
What about a series of reflective sails mounted along the inside of the ring? One side gets a hair closer, and the light pressure gets a hair stronger and pushes it back. Doesn't need power or any controll systems, just maintenence.
 whereswalden90
 Posts: 71
 Joined: Fri Sep 11, 2009 12:53 am UTC
 Location: THERE IS NO LOCATION
Re: Dyson Sphere / Ringworld (in)stability
Only if the force from the sails is exactly equal to the gravitational force. I think it'd be safe to assume that that would not be true in practice.
Missing LaTeX functionality? This handy site renders equations and creates permalinks for them!
You, sir, name? wrote:SummerGlauFan wrote:How about the entire movie 10,000 BC?
Yeah. I facepalmed at a rate of 30 Hz. It interfered with the TV.
 Sockmonkey
 Posts: 1211
 Joined: Thu Jul 24, 2008 11:30 pm UTC
Re: Dyson Sphere / Ringworld (in)stability
Couldn't you get away with having it be slightly stronger?
 Xanthir
 My HERO!!!
 Posts: 4860
 Joined: Tue Feb 20, 2007 12:49 am UTC
 Location: The Googleplex
 Contact:
Re: Dyson Sphere / Ringworld (in)stability
That still seems like it could easily lead to oscillation, possibly to an arbitrary level.
Just use controllable attitude jets, like they do on the real ringworld.
Just use controllable attitude jets, like they do on the real ringworld.
(defun fibs (n &optional (a 1) (b 1)) (take n (unfold '+ a b)))
 gmalivuk
 GNU Terry Pratchett
 Posts: 24334
 Joined: Wed Feb 28, 2007 6:02 pm UTC
 Location: Here and There
 Contact:
Re: Dyson Sphere / Ringworld (in)stability
heheXanthir wrote:like they do on the real ringworld.
 Xanthir
 My HERO!!!
 Posts: 4860
 Joined: Tue Feb 20, 2007 12:49 am UTC
 Location: The Googleplex
 Contact:
Re: Dyson Sphere / Ringworld (in)stability
Just you wait, gmal. We've only got about another 850 years.
(defun fibs (n &optional (a 1) (b 1)) (take n (unfold '+ a b)))

 Posts: 32
 Joined: Sat Jan 16, 2010 2:10 am UTC
Re: Dyson Sphere / Ringworld (in)stability
The Ringworld is already out there, it was built by SPOILERS millions of years ago

 Posts: 213
 Joined: Wed Sep 10, 2008 3:54 am UTC
Re: Dyson Sphere / Ringworld (in)stability
whereswalden90 wrote:Only if the force from the sails is exactly equal to the gravitational force. I think it'd be safe to assume that that would not be true in practice.
Possibly a series of solar sails on pistons? Large light objects can ride on solar pressure. They are known as statites, they "float" on a sea of light. Lower them closer to increase solar pressure without exacerbating the gravity problem(much).
 Sockmonkey
 Posts: 1211
 Joined: Thu Jul 24, 2008 11:30 pm UTC
Re: Dyson Sphere / Ringworld (in)stability
Or you could do the easy thing furling and unfurling the sails as needed.
Re: Dyson Sphere / Ringworld (in)stability
Sockmonkey wrote:Or you could do the easy thing furling and unfurling the sails as needed.
That's a bit much work for a sail that size if you're trying to do it mechanically. I'd go with something like Japan did with http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ikaros Put LCD panels on the solar sails, that can adjust between transparent(which would end up reflective, due to the sail behind it) and opaque. That way, you can electrically adjust the reflectance of your sail, and thus adjust the force on it. Ikaros has them along the edges, and can control them separately of each other to turn the sail.
 skeptical scientist
 closedminded spiritualist
 Posts: 6139
 Joined: Tue Nov 28, 2006 6:09 am UTC
 Location: San Francisco
Re: Dyson Sphere / Ringworld (in)stability
whereswalden90 wrote:Only if the force from the sails is exactly equal to the gravitational force. I think it'd be safe to assume that that would not be true in practice.
No, it would stabilize the ringworld if the force from the sails were at least as strong as gravitational force, and could be any amount more. For this to work without power would require that the outward force from light pressure be less than the inward force from gravity, which puts an upper limit on the density of the ringworld, but assuming that condition were met, it would stabilize the ringworld.
Yes, a perturbation would lead to oscillations, but that's what you want. That's what it means to be stable. Consider a marble in the bottom of a bowl. It is stable, exactly because when you bump it, it oscillates near where it started.
I'm looking forward to the day when the SNES emulator on my computer works by emulating the elementary particles in an actual, physical box with Nintendo stamped on the side.
"With math, all things are possible." —Rebecca Watson
"With math, all things are possible." —Rebecca Watson
 Xanthir
 My HERO!!!
 Posts: 4860
 Joined: Tue Feb 20, 2007 12:49 am UTC
 Location: The Googleplex
 Contact:
Re: Dyson Sphere / Ringworld (in)stability
*Damping* oscillations = stable. Other kinds of oscillations... not so much.
(defun fibs (n &optional (a 1) (b 1)) (take n (unfold '+ a b)))
Re: Dyson Sphere / Ringworld (in)stability
Then no orbit is stable.
Jerry Bona wrote:The Axiom of Choice is obviously true; the Well Ordering Principle is obviously false; and who can tell about Zorn's Lemma?
 Xanthir
 My HERO!!!
 Posts: 4860
 Joined: Tue Feb 20, 2007 12:49 am UTC
 Location: The Googleplex
 Contact:
Re: Dyson Sphere / Ringworld (in)stability
If you want to be precise... they're not. In deep time all the planets will be flung out of the solar system.
(defun fibs (n &optional (a 1) (b 1)) (take n (unfold '+ a b)))
Re: Dyson Sphere / Ringworld (in)stability
Xanthir wrote:If you want to be precise... they're not. In deep time all the planets will be flung out of the solar system.
Explain? Conservation of energy would seem to disagree. Strongly.
Some people tell me I laugh too much. To them I say, "ha ha ha!"
Re: Dyson Sphere / Ringworld (in)stability
Even if that were not the case, according to your definition the orbits would be unstable. And so would the L_{4} and L_{5} Lagrange points, and so on. The word "stable" becomes pretty much useless in reference to orbital mechanics.
But hey I suppose I should just link you to the actual definitions.
But hey I suppose I should just link you to the actual definitions.
Jerry Bona wrote:The Axiom of Choice is obviously true; the Well Ordering Principle is obviously false; and who can tell about Zorn's Lemma?
 Xanthir
 My HERO!!!
 Posts: 4860
 Joined: Tue Feb 20, 2007 12:49 am UTC
 Location: The Googleplex
 Contact:
Re: Dyson Sphere / Ringworld (in)stability
Charlie! wrote:Xanthir wrote:If you want to be precise... they're not. In deep time all the planets will be flung out of the solar system.
Explain? Conservation of energy would seem to disagree. Strongly.
The planetary orbits aren't perfectly elliptical  they have a chaotic component which means they'll diverge from the "ideal" orbit by an arbitrary amount, given sufficient time. At some distance, they stop being gravitationally bound to the Sun (background gravitational influence from nonSolar bodies dominates).
antonfire wrote:Even if that were not the case, according to your definition the orbits would be unstable. And so would the L_{4} and L_{5} Lagrange points, and so on. The word "stable" becomes pretty much useless in reference to orbital mechanics.
But hey I suppose I should just link you to the actual definitions.
True. My original statement was somewhat incorrect, and then I had fun with diving deeply into definitions. Damping oscillations are stable, but other types of oscillations are called "stable" as well. I was trying to exclude only oscillations with positive feedback, which can happen in a system as described if you're not careful.
(defun fibs (n &optional (a 1) (b 1)) (take n (unfold '+ a b)))
 skeptical scientist
 closedminded spiritualist
 Posts: 6139
 Joined: Tue Nov 28, 2006 6:09 am UTC
 Location: San Francisco
Re: Dyson Sphere / Ringworld (in)stability
Xanthir wrote:True. My original statement wassomewhatincorrect. I was trying to exclude only oscillations with positive feedback, whichcan happen in a system as described if you're not carefulis irrelevant to the situation of a reflective ringworld where the light pressure exceeds gravity.
Fixed. According to the actual definition of "stable," a ringworld could be made stable by making the interior surface of the ring reflective, provided the density is low enough that the force per unit area from reflected sunlight equals or exceeds the force per unit area from gravity. (Just as I said in my previous post.)
I'm looking forward to the day when the SNES emulator on my computer works by emulating the elementary particles in an actual, physical box with Nintendo stamped on the side.
"With math, all things are possible." —Rebecca Watson
"With math, all things are possible." —Rebecca Watson

 Posts: 2
 Joined: Sun Apr 17, 2011 12:01 am UTC
Re: Dyson Sphere / Ringworld (in)stability
I have no physics background, but wouldn't the doppler effect result in a dampening affect on the solar sales? the energy transfer from the light on the sales would be redshifted on the side that began moving in towards the star, while the otherside would be blueshifted.
Last edited by Cyclocross4life on Sat May 07, 2011 8:14 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.
Re: Dyson Sphere / Ringworld (in)stability
skeptical scientist wrote:The difference is that gravity is a 1/r^{2} force, while the surface area at distance r of a 2dimensional object inside a certain solid angle goes as r^{2}. The fact that these exactly cancel is what balances the gravitational forces from a sphere so that they all cancel out in the interior.Levelheaded wrote:Now, I don't know how Gauss' Law applies to a ring compared to a sphere, but it seems like the net gravitational force at the center of a ring would also be zero.
This isn't immediately obvious to me.
Left: two similar cones. Base area scales with cone height squared.
Center: the two opposing masses are non similar frustums.
For the sphere, the two opposing masses look even less similar to one another.

 Posts: 358
 Joined: Wed May 07, 2008 4:22 pm UTC
 Location: 3 decades west of the teenage wasteland
 Contact:
Re: Dyson Sphere / Ringworld (in)stability
Cave Wizard wrote:The Ringworld is already out there, it was built by SPOILERS millions of years ago
I am so waiting for the James Webb Space Telescope to send back an image of a star partially occluded by an artificial structure.. LOL
A partially completed dysonsphere or some such
Xanthir wrote:To be fair, even perfectly friendly antimatter wildebeests are pretty deadly.
Re: Dyson Sphere / Ringworld (in)stability
HopDavid wrote:For the sphere, the two opposing masses look even less similar to one another.
The key is, being closer to the smaller side, you feel a stronger attraction towards it (half the distance = 4x the attraction). There's more mass on the far side, but it's further away, and so each amount of mass has a smaller pull. From the inside of a sphere, these two factors balance each other out.
Re: Dyson Sphere / Ringworld (in)stability
Cyclocross4life wrote:I have no physics background, but wouldn't the doppler effect result in a dampening affect on the solar sales? the energy transpher from the light on the sales would be redshifted on the side that began moving in towards the star, while the otherside would be blueshifted.
Except for two things1) the radial component of motion isn't very large, so the doppler effect would quite small, and 2) the shift is in the opposite direction from what you saidthat is, the side approaching the star would see its light (very slightly) blueshifted, while the receding sail would receive redshifted light.
Pseudomammal wrote:Biology is funny. Not "haha" funny, "lowest bidder engineering" funny.
Re: Dyson Sphere / Ringworld (in)stability
Soralin wrote:The key is, being closer to the smaller side, you feel a stronger attraction towards it (half the distance = 4x the attraction). There's more mass on the far side, but it's further away, and so each amount of mass has a smaller pull. From the inside of a sphere, these two factors balance each other out.
A high school physics teacher points a flashlight straight down at the floor forming a cone with height h and base of radius r. Area of the disk of light is pi r^2.
Then he doubles the distance of the flashlight from the floor. Now there's a similar (that is, having the same proportions) cone but h and r doubled. Now the disk of light has area 4 pi r^2.
Same number of light beams, but 4 times the area. Thus he demonstrates light falls with inverse square of the distance.
By asking his students to imagine gravity as tractor beams, he shows gravity is also inverse square.
If I understand Skeptical Scientist's argument correctly, he thinks of two directly opposing mass particles being collinear with the mass within the sphere. The lines passing through the mass form two similar cones with similar bases. If this were the case, the mass indeed the near part of the solid angle would indeed be 1/4 the mass of the opposite mass.
On the left are two opposing disks, the top having 4 times the area of the bottom disk. If mass is proportional to disk area, each disk would exert an equal tug on the grain between.
But what if the point lies between a floor and ceiling of equal thickness? Then the two opposing masses are frustums. I will leave it as an exercise to determine the volumes of frustum A and frustum B. I will say they do not differ by a factor of 4.
Now how about a spherical shell of constant thickness? In this case the opposing masses would be two bowl shapes. The nearer bowl would have smaller radius, shallower shape but the same thickness as the far bowl. Two dissimilar shapes, so it is not immediately obvious to me that Skeptical Scientists' argument is correct.
Here's a discussion of how to determine the volume of a solid of revolution. This might be a way to compare opposing bowl volumes.
Re: Dyson Sphere / Ringworld (in)stability
@ HopDavid: suppose you have a hollow sphere of nonnegligible thinkness. You can see the gravitation of this sphere as the total gravitation of N thinner spheres exactly surrounding each other. By making N large enough, each of those thinner spheres will resemble the ideal situation of negligible thickness. The inner particle is (neutrally) stable with respect to all of those spheres, and therefore with respect to the larger sphere.
Re: Dyson Sphere / Ringworld (in)stability
Zamfir wrote:@ HopDavid: suppose you have a hollow sphere of nonnegligible thinkness. You can see the gravitation of this sphere as the total gravitation of N thinner spheres exactly surrounding each other. By making N large enough, each of those thinner spheres will resemble the ideal situation of negligible thickness. The inner particle is (neutrally) stable with respect to all of those spheres, and therefore with respect to the larger sphere.
This seems to work in the case of a particle lying between two flat walls of equal thickness.
Slicing the two frustums into small frustums of thickness h, each thinly sliced frustum becomes more cylinder like as h goes to zero. And so its volume approaches h * pi * r^2.
Each cone base seems to have a corresponding opposing conebase on the other side of the particle.
In a sphere, if each cone is made narrow enough, the spherical shell more closely approximates a flat wall.
Okay, I'm convinced.

 Posts: 2
 Joined: Sun Apr 17, 2011 12:01 am UTC
Re: Dyson Sphere / Ringworld (in)stability
EricH wrote:Cyclocross4life wrote:I have no physics background, but wouldn't the doppler effect result in a dampening affect on the solar sales? the energy transpher from the light on the sales would be redshifted on the side that began moving in towards the star, while the otherside would be blueshifted.
Except for two things1) the radial component of motion isn't very large, so the doppler effect would quite small, and 2) the shift is in the opposite direction from what you saidthat is, the side approaching the star would see its light (very slightly) blueshifted, while the receding sail would receive redshifted light.
Oops, had my light shifts backwards, thanks for pointing that out
If we found an infinitely strong material that could withstand temperatures higher than the core of a star and managed to encicrle a star in a ring of it, would it actually matter if the star pulled it offcenter? seems like it would just have one side going through the middle of a star, while the rest of it stuck out.
Re: Dyson Sphere / Ringworld (in)stability
Cyclocross4life wrote:If we found an infinitely strong material that could withstand temperatures higher than the core of a star and managed to encicrle a star in a ring of it, would it actually matter if the star pulled it offcenter? seems like it would just have one side going through the middle of a star, while the rest of it stuck out.
Well that would pose quite a problem if you have the ring set up as a habitable surface. After all, if the ring is still rotating, then you'll soon find your section of the ring thrust through the core of the star. And if it's not rotating, then there's no centripetal force keeping you, (or other things, for example, air), stuck to the inside surface of the ring.

 Posts: 22
 Joined: Mon Mar 21, 2011 4:12 pm UTC
Re: Dyson Sphere / Ringworld (in)stability
Re: Solar sail as the balancing force.
Solar sails are tremendously terrible, you basically need ~10^6 m^2 of very light material (at least 1/10th the weight of paper) to hold up a 1 tonne payload. I can imagine even a small perturbation giving a serious problem for any solar sail based solution.
Just use the thrusters
Solar sails are tremendously terrible, you basically need ~10^6 m^2 of very light material (at least 1/10th the weight of paper) to hold up a 1 tonne payload. I can imagine even a small perturbation giving a serious problem for any solar sail based solution.
Just use the thrusters
Re: Dyson Sphere / Ringworld (in)stability
Soralin wrote:And if it's not rotating, then there's no centripetal force keeping you, (or other things, for example, air), stuck to the inside surface of the ring.
Centripetal force does not keep you stuck to the ring. It keeps you from flying through it.
It is one thing to tell students "there is no centrifugal force" in an attempt to avoid confusion. But using it in completely the same way, only substituting centripetal is seven times more wrong.
Who is online
Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 5 guests