What is the mass of the Solanae Dyson Sphere?

In response to a question on STO’s sub-reddit, I started wondering about the mass of the dyson spheres in Star Trek Online. I love doing these paper-and-pencil what-ifs, and the sphere is one of my favorite zones in STO for look and feel. Here was my response to the original poster’s question about how the Solanae sphere jumping a few light years out from Iconia would affect the Iconia system …

There are too many unknowns to come up with a good guess at the sphere shell’s mass, but I assume it’s a fraction of its central star’s mass and wouldn’t contribute much beyond normal stellar-scale gravitational pull. So it’s no different than any other normal star a few light years away, having minimal gravitational impact.

An interesting consequence of the sphere jumping is having a clear way measure the speed of gravitational wave propagation. Barring some kind of Trekverse subspace effect, that’s theoretically at the speed of light, so it will take Iconia two years to feel even that tiny gravitational shift after the sphere jumped to two light years away.

If the sphere were constructed from the star’s original planets and we use our solar system as a base, then it’s no more than roughly 1/750th the mass of its star (based on planetary mass but not including asteroids and Oort cloud.) However, we do have some observations about the sphere to consider. And now, some math-based guessing …

Enterprise-D going “down the hatch” of the Jenolan sphere airlock in the TNG episode “Relics”.

Watching the Enterprise fly through the Jenolan sphere’s airlock in Relics, it looks like the sphere is several kilometers thick since the airlock’s inner and outer doors appear to be flush with the inner and outer surfaces. The gash in the Solonae sphere’s Wasteland zone looks much deeper, at least tens of kilometers thick. In either case, it’s thickness is much smaller than its radius, so we can approximate the shell’s volume as 4 * pi * r2 * t, where r radius (1.5E11 m, i.e., 1 AU) >> t thickness (1E4 to 1E5 m, i.e., 10 – 100 km).

That means it’s between 2.3E26 and 2.3E27 cubic meters (m3). The gash looks starship-like inside, and starships–like witches–float, e.g., Nandi at Risa. It may not be solid but may use superdense matter like neutronium for it shell, so let’s wildly guess at effective densities between water (1000 kg/m3) and iron (8000 kg/m3). To get a range, let’s use a lighter, thinner shell (1/2 as dense as water, i.e. like like a naval ship’s displacement) versus a thicker solid iron shell to get 1.2E28 kg to 1.8E31 kg.

For scale, the sun’s mass is roughly 2E30 kg which means our range is 1/100 to 10 times the mass of a Sol-type star. So, I could see the sphere’s mass being roughly the same magnitude as its star given a superdense impenetrable shell much like the doomsday device and vast energies from capturing the stellar output for force fields, integrity fields, artificial gravity, and active stabilization. It’s still measurable in normal stellar masses and not, say, galactic core black hole masses. Two solar masses over two light years is still not out of the ordinary gravitationally, but it points to the possibility that the sphere was constructed not from the mass of a solitary star’s planets but from one of the stars in a binary system.

Furthermore, if the shell were constructed only from the planetary mass around a Sol-type star, then its effective density is pretty low to absurdly low. With our solar system’s total planetary mass of roughly 3E27 kg and that volume between 2.3E26 and 2.3E27 m^3, the shell’s density would be 1.1 to 11 kg/m^3 or about 1/100 to 1/1000 the density of water.  For reference, styrofoam is 40 kg/m^3 or about 1/25 the density of water. While anything is possible, the Solanae dyson sphere *shell* being 4 to 40 times less dense than sytrofoam is more than my brain can handle.

I wish they’d used a ringworld instead of a dyson sphere so my Kzinti–er, Ferasan–Captain would feel more at home exploring it.

Streamlining is not a bad thing.

In response to Face Of The Ranger’s Streamlining post:

super-maglev-trainStreamlining is necessary and inevitable for an MMO to remain healthy as it ages. As content stacks up over the years, new players struggle to cross ever-widening chasms of unpopulated zones to reach the latest content, where most of the player-base already is. The probability of them sticking it out decreases. That old content strangles off the flow of new players, and the game declines as older players move on.

Let’s be honest. Much of MMO content is not really story; it’s “Kill ten rats.” It’s padding so players don’t run through content (they may have paid for) too quickly. It justifies development dollars spent with hours played. As that content ages and the endgame fencepost moves, developers can remove that padding, keeping the essence of story without slowing players down from reaching the latest content. Refactoring old content also allows developers to use techniques they’ve learned or features they’ve added to out-of-date content. It’s an opportunity for the editorial process to include player feedback and retrofit old ideas with better as the storyline evolves.

Consider Star Trek Online (STO) refactoring the old Romulan Mystery episodes. It resulted in a much better experience: less padding, better story, and better technicals. Characters introduced in later episodes were woven back into older storylines, and an absurd plot involving Undine and a pre-emptive Federation strike against the Romulans can happily be forgotten. Denise Crosby reprised her role as Sela with new voice acting. If I put aside nostalgia, if I had a choice as a first-time player between the old and new versions, it’s no contest: Newer is better.

I replayed every episode for the Delta Recruit event, and content that hasn’t been refactored was painful obvious, particularly the Cardassian arc for Federation characters. Even the Breen arc, arguably Cryptic’s turning point in honing their content creation skills, needs refactoring–more because of baked-in technical problems that caused many people to crash in one particular episode. That refactoring is in the works, although it likely has to take a back seat to the new content around the Iconian War. New content tends to trump old since it’s more likely to generate new business, but the fact that Cryptic does spend time and money on this refactoring is evidence that they see it as an important part of the business model.

Compare that to Shadows of Angmar (Volume I) in Lord Of The Rings Online (LOTRO) which desperately needs streamlining. It’s the original storyline (a.k.a. Epic Quest) from LOTRO’s release and has only had some minor touch-ups over the years. I replayed it a few months ago and though it would never end–so much padding and back-and-forth that I had to buy mithril coins for fast travel to quest givers. It wasn’t fun anymore, and the story got lost in the tedium. I would guess most new players never complete it; once the starting quest for Moria pops up, they’re almost forced to head there so they can start the legendary item grind. That’s a shame because it’s still a great story and part of LOTRO lore. Volume I needs to be shorter while preserving the essence of the story, and it needs to take advantage of all those things Turbine has learned since about creating content.

Perhaps STO has a leg up on LOTRO with streamlining because it levels its content to the player. Cryptic expects players to replay missions, even encourages it by including special rewards that are often leveled to the player. I keep a list of those missions and will go back once I’ve reached level cap on a new alt to have those items at max level. Cryptic added brand new rewards when they refactored Romulan Mystery, and they even highlighted it as new quests in the quest panel. Beyond the skill of refactoring content and the properties of STO that encourage it, Cryptic has a process for getting people to the streamlined content.

Other developers have something to learn from Cryptic on this point. As games age and accumulate content, either their creators care enough about the whole experience to go back and improve old content or they don’t. I’ll gladly trade my fond memories of old, wonky content for a commitment to maintain a great game experience through all levels of play.