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If someone invented a field manipulator that created a region through which no form of light could enter or pass through, effectively making a sphere of complete darkness, what sort of practical applications might such a thing have?

It would appear from the outside to be a solid black sphere, and when inside it you would feel no ill effects other than maybe a little disorientation from the absolute darkness.

The size would be theoretically as big as someone could build the generator, but power wise, the biggest anyone would be able to make and sustain would be the size of a typical sports arena. The zone would be spherical with the generator at the centre. Sound, and physical passage through the field would be absolutely normal, so such things as RADAR would not be impeded, (from a "Stealth" perspective).

From a narrative point of view I'm trying to reconcile the funding that would have gone into such a device. Someone needed to say, "Ooh, I could use that for XX, here's lots of money... go do it."

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    $\begingroup$ Just a note - RADAR (RAdio Detection And Ranging) uses radio waves, which is a form of light. So radar would be blocked by your field. You might be thinking of sonar, which uses sound, and would presumably be unaffected. $\endgroup$ – Qami May 5 at 14:24
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    $\begingroup$ Oh, come on guys! radio waves are not a form of light. Light is a form of radio waves. $\endgroup$ – Adrian Colomitchi May 5 at 14:31
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    $\begingroup$ I realised the gaff with RADAR/sonar about a minute before I came back to check. D'oh. $\endgroup$ – Tommy May 5 at 14:31
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    $\begingroup$ Also, an important question to consider if you want serious consideration of scientific applications is: where does all the energy go? If I shine a flashlight into this field, light energy that should have passed through and come out the other side is gone...where? Does the field "swallow" the energy and release it when it's turned off? (This would probably break thermodynamics and open up reams of janky applications) Does the field need to be connected to a heat radiator somewhere outside the affected area? If this tech is important to your plot, best to be clear about how it handles energy. $\endgroup$ – Qami May 5 at 14:51
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    $\begingroup$ While I think you have the foundation of an interesting question, it's pretty clear that you're basically asking for a list of things and that all answers given are equally valid opinions. You haven't provided any kind of metric to determine which answer is best. VTC. $\endgroup$ – elemtilas May 5 at 17:15
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Solve Global Warming and Climate Change.

Orbit the device around the Sun at the L1 Lagrange Point - and if the strength of field is related to its radius, change the sphere of darkness's radius to the point where it partially eclipses the sun and reduces the sun's light from reaching part of Earth.

Position it at the same location as DISCOVR: enter image description here

By reducing the energy received from the sun it would be possible to control the amount of heat energy on Earth, and this could solve Climate Change and be desirable for:

  • Oil companies, so they can continue to sell oil without everyone worrying about climate change due to fossil fuels
  • Coal and Gas Power companies, so they can continue to burn fuel to supply power to the world, with the double benefit of harming their solar industry competitors
  • Governments who don't want to change too much of the status quo without harming fossil fuel industry employment

Such a device could easily receive billions in funding from these interested parties.

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  • $\begingroup$ That's brilliant. And fits perfectly with the plot. Just one additional follow up question, on that... how big would it need to be? I can easily rejig the plot to change the power to size ratios, but an idea of just how big that thing would need to be would help. $\endgroup$ – Tommy May 5 at 14:41
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    $\begingroup$ @Tommy, big. Literally, it would need to be "astronomically" big. During a solar eclipse, only a relatively small percentage of the Earth is in shadow. The distance between Earth and L1 is similar to the distance between Earth and Luna (different by about 15%), so you probably want a field considerably larger than Luna. Also, really, really big batteries to power the thing (presumably it is solar-charged, but you can't power and run it at the same time). Don't forget you need to get it up there somehow. I don't think this is actually practical. $\endgroup$ – Matthew May 5 at 15:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Tommy I don't think it would be practical considering you mention that it can only cover the size of a football field. If the generator could cover a sizeable portion of the planet, perhaps this might be more feasible. It would also have to be more efficient in cost to create such a field than making the same sized thing as a space-based solar power station, since the latter would have more benefits than just acting as a shade. $\endgroup$ – Enthus3d May 5 at 15:09
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    $\begingroup$ I'm probably going to go down the road that this idea is what they were aiming for, developed the notional tech, but realised the scale was too big so looked at other applications for it. Cheers $\endgroup$ – Tommy May 5 at 16:12
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    $\begingroup$ In addition to what @Matthew pointed out about size, you also have to consider that global warming, while it does exist, is on the order of 3 degrees per millennium. Waste heat will become a problem before greenhouse warming does. $\endgroup$ – The Daleks May 5 at 16:16
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Military Origins: Spec Ops

Perhaps this is not a commercial application, but most innovations start off with military applications, and then work their way into normal day to day life.

The darkness generator is the newest weapon developed by the army. Against a technologically underdeveloped or unprepared enemy, it provides a massive advantage by completely blocking off all vision as well as communications equipment (by also blocking off electromagnetic waves).

A specially trained Darkness Squad can set up the generator around their target, and have their own portable sonar devices and dead reckoning systems to guide them in the darkness. As @Matthew pointed out, they can communicate among each other using modulators and demodulators for their voices using sound frequencies beyond the range of the human ear (ultrasonic or infrasonic transmitters and receivers) which can be encrypted and decrypted for added security. Specially created weapons that fire based on sound cues, and melee weapons would most likely be their go-to method of attack.

With the Darkness Squads' superior communications and sensors, the enemies plunged into darkness and blocked off from any form of communication don't stand a chance.

An area the size of a football field is more than enough to shut down operations and communications in an entire building, and it makes it extremely difficult to send in reinforcements, due to the communications block off and lack of visual confirmation in the generator's area of effect.

Commercial Use: Agriculture

Eventually, the world will have seen enough use of the generator, that easy ways to counter it will be found, discontinuing its usage for military purposes. Instead, it is now used in areas around the world for the agriculture industry.

Farming is one of the applications of the darkness generator. By employing the darkness generator, it is possible to fine-tune the amount of light any farm receives. This would be especially useful for areas that are too hot to plant certain colder-climate plants.

Farming in the desert could be achieved as well, as long as the soil and water conditions can be provided, the amount of heat and sunlight can be fine-tuned through use of the generator.

Commercial Use: Space Colonies

Perhaps the most useful application would be the use of the darkness generator in space colonies on the outer planets.

By using the generator on habitation areas of a planet, it is possible to bring down the amount of sunlight, and thus heat, in certain habitation areas, bringing down the total temperature. Of course, this will not reduce the heat brought through the air from surrounding areas, but should help alleviate some of the heat wave from the ground in the generator's area, which will make otherwise uninhabitable areas much more bearable for habitation.

Also, with the blocking of electromagnetic waves, the darkness generator could drastically reduce the amount of radiation humans experience while on certain planets, such as Europa, where the radiation is enough to be fatal in just one day (although blocking off just the sunlight for temperature related purposes would not be useful, considering Europa's temperature is something like -170 degrees).

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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure you even need Morse code. I'm not sure ultrasound will work, although infrasound might. Just have the suits apply an octave or so of pitch shift to everyone's voice, then drop that another couple octaves by slowing it down and blast it out, and have audio monitoring that is constantly reversing the process. Voices will sound strange and there will be a delay effect, but presumably trained soldiers can learn to deal with that. Alternatively, there might be a way to use an infrasound carrier modulated like you would a radio signal. $\endgroup$ – Matthew May 5 at 15:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Matthew good idea. I was thinking more along the lines of encrypting audio communication, in case the enemy comes prepared at some point (but obviously, my use of morse code is a terrible example for an encrypted code). $\endgroup$ – Enthus3d May 5 at 15:38
  • $\begingroup$ Modified the section to be more clear about how they could communicate using sound waves. $\endgroup$ – Enthus3d May 5 at 15:50
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks. Those are some great ideas, and just what I'm after. The Military idea you suggest is similar to the payoff. With slightly better subtlety than I'm using now, a blind character is introduced, and ultimately the characters steal a generator and use it so the blind character can break into the building etc... $\endgroup$ – Tommy May 5 at 16:12
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    $\begingroup$ @Enthus3d, yes and no. In most cases the big black blob of dark would be a bit of a giveaway that something shady (bad pun) was going on. But if used inside a building, only the occupants would be aware, and if the security cameras go dark it would be difficult to tell if there is a fault, or someone is using a Darkness Field. $\endgroup$ – Tommy May 5 at 16:24
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Parents of young children and night shift workers

People sleep better when it's dark. People who have to sleep during the day have a hard time. Santhi et al (2005) found that controlling the exposure to light and darkness can help the circadian rthyms of shift workers. When I was an overnight policy analyst, no amount of eye masks, blackout curtains, and other tools could replace the darkness of night. I would have gladly paid for a darkness generator that could generate a field the size of my head. That would have also let my wife go about her life and turn lights on in the apartment without waking me.

Sleep is also a big deal for young children. My wife is pregnant and we're already thinking about it. Being able to cast true and total darkness would benefit both parents and children. People spend billions of dollars every year on baby stuff. I've recently realized that slapping the word "baby" on a product means you can charge extra for it, so the "GizTech 84A Baby Darkness Generator" could conceivably cost $1,000+.

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks a lot, those are great ideas. $\endgroup$ – Tommy May 5 at 15:58
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You want to write some fiction based on science, right? Because what you describe is either trivial or impossible.

Make one darkness generator with a cross-section of 1sqm. Put it in the Sun light. Every second, the thingy absorbs about 1000J from the Sun's light when placed at sea level.

Now:

  1. trivial: if the thingy heats up due to the absorbed energy, that's OK. The same happens with a piece of black cloth placed in the sunlight under vacuum - it absorbs visible light, heats up and radiates IR lights (thermal radiation) until it reaches a thermal equilibrium. You just created some sort of a black body

  2. trivial: if the thing doesn't heat up because it's somehow forcingly cooled down (the heat is evacuated), that's also OK - you just apply a cooling of the black cloth with a thermal pump instead of letting it emit a higher amount of IR light as before. Nothing wrong, you'll just create more heat in total.

  3. impossible: if the thing heats up but continues to absorb energy for unlimited times, then you are in big troubles with the thermodynamics. The pesky second law says that the heat always flows naturally from hot to cold and if the thingy keeps heating from Sun light at one point will heat above the Sun's temperature (>5700K) but... say what?... continue to absorb light?

  4. impossible: if the thing doesn't heat up and continue to adsorb energy - you have an infinite heat sink. Couple it with any heat source through a working gas in a piston and you have your contraption that allows the conversion of heat to work without increasing the entropy of the environment.

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    $\begingroup$ I think you misunderstood. The OP specified not that it is an object that does not reflect light (that is in fact near-trivial), but that it creates a "field" in which there is no EM radiation. He did not say what happens at the boundaries (light might even be reflected, so that the outside of darkness is bright), just that if you are inside, you can not generate light. Of course, such a thing is still impossible, but this is not a"reality-check", "hard-science" or "science based" question. $\endgroup$ – b.Lorenz May 5 at 15:51
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A lot depends on how the tech works, and I like these ideas. Here are my thoughts.

  • Power generation- If this absorbs power rather than reflecting it, it can be the world's best solar panel, with the advantage that it can be switched on and off, and not take up huge amounts of space. The energy use vs production issue would determine if it was practical or not.
  • Alternative chemistry - Somehow this thing alters the output AND transmission of energy, so some specialized chemical reactions would behave differently inside the field.
  • EMP protection - If this thing doesn't outright act like a Faraday cage, It would VERY likely help shield things from electromagnetic pulses, and could be switched on and off at will. If you placed this field around a computer and had really good surge protection, the computers could survive nearby nuclear explosions, solar flares, etc.
  • Radiation shielding -A giant solar flare is coming at your space ship? NO PROBLEM. Switch on you gadget, and all those nasty gamma rays just (reflect/dissipate/convert/power your systems).
  • All-thermal nuclear bomb - What would a nuclear explosion look like inside this field? It could either cancel it (which raises it's own interesting questions) or convert all that nasty output to something less, well, radioactive. I don't know enough about the physics, but I bet there would be a different KIND of bomb, one with more neutrons, all-thermal (ideal for a big but non-toxic explosion), or something like that. Whatever you decided, it could shake up global balance, and any military would throw money at answering the question.
  • counter-surveillance - I'm guessing this isn't super-portable, but you could erect fields around a building or other sensitive target to block surveillance, lasers scanning windows to detect sound by measuring vibrations, etc. If you can create the field in a sphere and then cancel it in a smaller sphere, you have a shielded environment where no one can see in.
  • Energy weapon force field - While the practicality of laser cannons is debatable, this would give you the ability to shield a space ship from a laser cannon or something similar. It could also block communication lasers to interfere with secure communications by enemies without actually damaging anything (again, more of a space application).
  • Fusion power - If you field absorbs all light, including infrared, gamma rays, etc., could this be the means by which you could generate and store power from a fusion reaction? Not sure what the physics would look like.
  • If you can adjust the wavelengths of the field to start affecting infrared, you start REALLY changing things like chemistry, manufacturing, the efficiency of power plants, or even stuff like how a furnace outputs heat vs infrared. On this one, the opportunities boggle the mind. That could be it's own answer entirely (feel free, anyone)
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  • $\begingroup$ +1 for radiation shielding; I thought of that too. Would block 100% of x/gamma rays no matter how energetic. That's gotta be crazy useful! $\endgroup$ – Qami May 5 at 17:12
  • $\begingroup$ The problem with some of these is the OP isn't entirely clear if the thing blocks EM at the threshold, or all EM everywhere inside the field... but the impression I got was the latter. If it's the latter, presumably it acts like a really good, localized EMP, which is going to very much preclude several of these ideas. (Hmm... and one that possibly bypasses Faraday cages? That has potential as a weapon...) But maybe it can be tuned or used in an array to achieve effects similar to only blocking EM at the boundary. $\endgroup$ – Matthew May 5 at 17:52
  • $\begingroup$ @Matthew, I was hopeful it would mostly block the generating/radiowave effects of EMP, but still allow electron flow so devices could operate inside. A lot of the physics are up in the air, which is good for creativity, but bad for specificity. $\endgroup$ – DWKraus May 5 at 18:01
  • $\begingroup$ Hmm, that's a good point, it might be plausible that the device is simply a black hole for photons. I guess electronics might still work in that case? (That's a question for someone with more physics knowledge than myself...) Of course, this presumes that we haven't switched to photonic circuits 😉. Anyway, I think it's less that some of your ideas can't work and more that they might require a bit of finesse... $\endgroup$ – Matthew May 5 at 18:04

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