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I have a concept involving the colonisation of a star cluster by ideological outcasts who want to be left alone. Is it possible for them to either totally physically hide this cluster (presumably using megastructures of some sort upon their arrival) or to prevent anyone from documenting it (e.g. excluding it from a universal 'star census' or something like that through sabotage) or to modify databases to make the cluster seem so utterly unlivable and sparse in resources so as to dissuade any reasonable fellow from going there?

To make things easier, it can be assumed that they could modify, delete or insert records and information about this cluster to databases.

I'm only asking about whether which of these methods, if any, are possible - NOT a brainstorming session to find the 'coolest answer'.

Thank you in advance! :)

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  • $\begingroup$ Related questions: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/q/149991/627, worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/q/15111/627 $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Feb 18 at 14:36
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    $\begingroup$ I think the answer would have a time domain. Are you wanting to hide it for decades, millennia, or millions of years? $\endgroup$ Feb 19 at 2:33
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    $\begingroup$ If you can build megastructures large enough to hide a star, then why not just build yourself a planet not orbiting any star and power everything with a large nuclear reactor. Sure, it will all emit some heat, but not much compared to any star, so a lot harder to detect. $\endgroup$
    – user4574
    Feb 19 at 22:14
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    $\begingroup$ Do those outcasts wish to be isolated forever -- and could thus set off into space, moving away from all civilization forever -- or do they still wish to be able to "relatively" easily access the civilized words they're fleeing from from time to time -- for technology or resources, to influence them, etc...? $\endgroup$ Feb 20 at 9:52
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    $\begingroup$ You cannot arbitrarily change a database, and not get caught. Sure, their man may be ideally positioned to make such changes. But any good intelligence agency would occationally grab a copy of all public databases. Their copies would never be changed, only used to check if there is weird editing going on. Such as a star disappearing, that ought to have a few billion years left to burn. As well as any other attempt at falsifying history. To "steal" a star, travel all the way to some not-yet-mapped distant galaxy to do it. Good idea anyway, if you want to hide that well. $\endgroup$ Feb 20 at 12:34

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Don't hide anything. Don't even hide there was colonization expedition by those outcasts. Just add that this expedition was failed (illnesses, not enough resources,hostile biospheres, "strange" star radioation which cause all of those outcasts to go crazy and kill each other) and they all are dead and it's confirmed by rescue team. Rescue team members are also dead.

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    $\begingroup$ "ALL BUT ONE OF THE Rescue team members are also dead". Always leave one alive to tell the Tale. ;-) $\endgroup$
    – Phill W.
    Feb 19 at 11:48
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    $\begingroup$ This seems the best answer...there's many stars, some are more interesting than others. Make these out to be unpromising and uninteresting candidates that have already led to failures. Don't get too creative or someone will go there to try and research it, or use it as a penal colony or something. Don't make it terrifying, make it disappointing. $\endgroup$ Feb 21 at 21:25
  • $\begingroup$ @PhillW. One of members of rescue time live long enough to send their ship back. :) $\endgroup$
    – Tauri
    Feb 23 at 7:46
  • $\begingroup$ This also certainly dodges some bullets that other solutions will have to bite: which is a better explanation, that an entire star system just went dark immediately after the colonists arrive, marking one of the strangest astrophysical events ever to have taken place, or that they just couldn't find water or oxygen and all expired after a few days? One will certainly attract much more attention. +1 $\endgroup$ Feb 25 at 19:20
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I do not think it is practical to hide stars as described.

A lot of the stars near us have been measured and recorded. Soon all of them will be routinely measured to estimate their relative motions, and disturbances in those will be used to detect for missing mass. We can resolve a few stars into discs. We have measured the transmission of the atmospheres of planets and estimated their composition.

We are very far from going in person to the nearest star. If we do ever travel to the stars, it seems reasonable that the region of accurately surveyed space will expand as we travel. Parallax measurements will get the best data from the most distant measurements. There will be many local copies of any stellar mapping, so the outlying districts can process the data and look for any outliers. Surveys will routinely look for anything that has changed in brightness or position. If you pick a 'dull-looking' star and build a Dyson Sphere about it, it will immediately attract attention. SETI and others are already looking for that sort of thing. Faking entries in a database would attract much more interest if it is detected.

How long is this isolation intended to last? Our galaxy occasionally yeets 'rogue stars' into the void. These stars are ordinary stars. Their planetary systems were probably disturbed, so there may be no ancient life. Their relative velocity makes them harder to visit than many other similar stars. This would seem to be the ideal place to lie low: boring, hard to get to, going away, and of little interest once it has gone. Hop there, and you have the isolation you want.

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Hiding cannot really work: the stars emit energy, and since that energy cannot be destroyed, it will end up somewhere else, either into mass or a different kind of energy. For a civilization which can scan through all the EM spectrum it cannot be hidden.

For similar reason you can't really prevent anyone from discovering it.

Modifying databases will also hardly work: a region particularly depleted of resources will stand out as a sore thumb and will raise questions, in particular from scientists who will try to explain why the apparent deviation has become possible. More or less like how the ore particularly poor in fissile material made the scientist discover a natural fission reactor in Africa.

If you want to hide it, you have to avoid making it stand out, both in good or in bad.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, that is very helpful info. My concern is that the group my settlers would be trying to keep away from is highly expansionist. In this case, and with hiding/fudging numbers being out of the question, would the best thing just be having the cluster be unreasonably out of the way, such that it would be a very low priority for colonisation? I would prefer to have somewhere where my group can hide indefinitely, rather than waiting on a time bomb of when their home becomes next on the chopping block, but I will definitely settle for that if it's the only accurate and feasible solution. $\endgroup$
    – Valitenci
    Feb 18 at 9:30
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Actually stars are not ideal to create a hidden civilization. Way better would be to fling "failed stars" aka not even-brown-dwarfs out into the void between galaxies. Shepherd them away into the distance, then create civilizations around those brown dwarfs, that can still can provide low level fusion energy. Nearly no emissions that wouldn't be background radiation.

Overtime, you could build a Dyson sphere around that hidden away brown-dwarf cluster and within that sphere, combine the brown dwarfs into an actual star.

The infrared heat that would be emitted you take, combine into a laser and beam into a direction without observer.

If that is done several times, you get a dark Dyson sphere cluster, hovering in the void, observable by just a tiny wobble in the light that bends around it or dims by it...

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    $\begingroup$ Clever. Very clever. Both in using non-bright stars to build the hideaway, as bright stars disappearing would be noticeable, and in solving the "emissions give them away" problem. I do think one problem remains: the dark spot would be noticeable when passing "in front" of a star. Not sure how widespread potential observers are... $\endgroup$ Feb 20 at 9:49
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    $\begingroup$ There i would hide it by creating universal statistic artefacts. As in you take assemblers and gun them out into the void, were they hit larger asteroids- which they then dissolve into what is essentially a solar system sized solar sail. And once astronomers get used to dead space having dead pixels, your dyson sphere is just another dead pixel.. $\endgroup$
    – Pica
    Feb 20 at 10:23
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    $\begingroup$ Or you just pretend to be a interstellar dust cloud/nebula in the dark, by getting fuzzy at the edges, using again, similar pixels.. $\endgroup$
    – Pica
    Feb 20 at 10:33
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Hiding would come with two challenges:

First there is no way to way to get rid of the power output. No invisibility, not at that scale.

Second the problem of light speed lag. Change anything and the effect will only be seen with some delay. And that delay will be different depending on the observer's location. At some point someone travelling around will find that their sensor data doesn't match with what the database suggests.

Inhospitality might work, a "random" star collision, perhaps leaving nearby stars unstable, today that would render the cluster a wasteland could conceivably be faked depending on relative tech levels.

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Hide in bureaucracy

As other answers have explained, physically hiding is pretty much impossible at that level of technology.

Similarily, hiding by erasing database entries, or making the stars curiously (to scientists) ressource-poor might backfire.

What you can do though, in a huge interstellar empire, is hide in the bureaucracy - since apparently your settlers have the ability to manipulate databases.

What you want to do is not delete the stars' entries. Or Manipulate them so they have zero useable ressources. You want to

  • make them seem already settled
  • by a made-up utterly unremarkable population (not QUITE exactly average, that too might stand out, but close to it)
  • ruled by a governor so boring and unremarkable, it's no wonder nobody has heard of him. He got his post at the high-ish age of 50(?) because he has absolutely no achievements to show for himself, and the best he could do is also make absolutely no mistakes, so somebody assigned this boring, dead-end post to him since they couldn't NOT promote him to governor
  • The area pays its taxes, as noted in the databases. Those taxes are spent on boring, fudged slightly higher, maintenance budgets - just to avoid any imbalance in any excel sheet (and yes, excel survived for millenia and still powers the boring parts of administration)
  • It provides whatever military recruits are required from it, as noted in the databases. Those made-up recruits serve in made-up companies, all existing on paper only. Note that corrupt military commanders in the real world tend to pocket the salaries of made-up soldiers all the time, so if your empire's military isn't perfect, your manipulations won't even be a new invention here.

If anyone comes visiting - well, conveniently there actually ARE people living here. Your people. They'll just have to pretend to be good citizens of the empire, and have someone ready to play the single most boring multi-star governer you can imagine.

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  • $\begingroup$ So... the interstellar equivalent of a laundromat with an illegal casino in the back room. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Feb 21 at 16:04
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You can't hide the existence of the stars, but maybe it would be possible to fake (in databases, possibly a little physically) something that is hazardous so no one wants to colonize it, and uninteresting so no one wants to study it? What is "uninteresting" depends on the level of science and how much of the galaxy has been explored.

If it was a single system, something like a large amount of fast moving debris might work, but that wouldn't really scale to a cluster. Maybe that area of space can be made to appear to have a lot of smallish black holes that don't have accretion disks and are not all charted that make navigation hazardous, although that may invite study. Another possibility is to make it look like a star is way closer to supernova than it actually is, but that will definitely invite study.

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No, this would not be feasible. Building a megastruture to surround the entire cluster would be several orders of magnitude more difficult than building Dyson spheres or swarms and leave a blank spot in the sky, but that doesn't really matter because the light from before you built the structures is already out there travelling around and reaching different stars at different times, from a few years for close neighbors to tens of thousands of years for further stars. If you have that much time and energy for an 'outcast' civilization, I would assume the main civilization you are trying to hide from would have many orders of magnitude more power.

Fiddling with databases won't work either. Amateur astronomers on our single little planet love viewing clusters and all parts of the sky through their telescopes. If they happened to be looking at the sky and saw a cluster not in any database they would be quite curious. That would be eclipsed by the professional astronomers that have much more knowledge in their heads and spend much more time. The kind of control of information systems needed to keep this hidden would basically mean your civilization would have total control of all their networks for the foreseeable future. Then when one astronomer sees that the data he entered one night isn't there the next night, the jig would be up.

We really can't see through the center of the galaxy, so if you could make a generation ship and travel around the center to stars on the other side, and if the main civilization was localized to one area of the galaxy, that might work. But then if you weren't too worried, why not just go 10,000 light years in any direction and pick some stars to colonize. Maybe you could set off in one direction for a couple hundred light years and change course. It might be hard for them to figure out where you went. It would be 10,000 years before they could see what you were doing, if you were even doing anything significant enough to be noticed from that far away.

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Find yourself a rouge planet that is not orbiting any star. It will probably be very hard to find in the first place. But that's the point.

If the planet has a geologically active core full of nuclear material (like the earth) then even if the surface is frozen, you can live on the interior using geothermal energy.

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You need to do few things in the same time

Hiding something as massive as cluster of stars would be done in many many years and probably through few generations, would consume a lot of resource and would be very complicated. It would involve:
  • Hiding energy emitted by the stars
  • Disabling ability to notice any changes (probably by illegal means like making researching this fragment of the cosmos impossible)
  • Removing relevant info from any sources of information while constantly keeping the very same info from being added back to those sources

Remember that there is high chance that whatever organization doing this will create opposition by doing what they need to conceal those stars that will actively try to reveal their actions to the general public and bring back relevant stars back "on the maps". So the requirement for the start would mean that said group that want to be left alone would need to be very involved into every aspect of civilization first (which may be the reason why they want to be left alone in the first place).

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I'd say your best bet is to set course for the largest dust cloud you can find and look for viable planets inside or behind it, rather than trying to create that huge a structure yourself.

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They would need to build a couple of megastructures. First they would need a dyson swarm or sphere to absorb as much of the stars energy as possible. This will never be perfect and they will still need to radiate infrared wave lengths. But this could possible be further disguised by specifically radiating a similar radiation that is exactly out of phase. Thus masking their radiation similar to how noise cancelling headphones work.

This still wouldn't be perfect though and could be eventually discovered. That's why they would need to build their second megastructure around the star which is a Stellar Engine. This essentially focuses the stars energy in a particular direction allowing them to "steer" the star outside of it's natural galactic orbit.

When the Stellar Engine is active there would obviously be a very detectable event that couldn't be masked. But it could only be used sparingly until the star is in a completely unexpected location. The rest of the time they would keep the eletromagnetic masking active.

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  • $\begingroup$ I was under the impression that when mutual destructive interference occurs it would sent the energy back to its source, and so would break the machinenery in concern. $\endgroup$ Feb 19 at 15:36
  • $\begingroup$ No it wouldnt send the energy back to the source, but cancelling out radiation is not the same thing as cancelling out audio. You'd just get more radiation. Newtons conservation laws dont break or bend for nobody I'm afraid, if you want to get rid of energy, you got to hide it somewhere $\endgroup$
    – Shayne
    Feb 21 at 14:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Shayne lol does it not also work like that? I have no idea it just seemed like a cool idea. $\endgroup$
    – kutuzof
    Feb 28 at 15:13
  • $\begingroup$ Even if you used a perfectly calibrated positron emmission you'd just get a gnarly burst of gamma rays. Physics refuses to let you just vanish things. $\endgroup$
    – Shayne
    Feb 29 at 7:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Shayne Sure it wouldn't be perfect. But it's be much harder to detect. Combined with a solar engine so you can move unpredictably and you could plausibly hide pretty well $\endgroup$
    – kutuzof
    Mar 1 at 11:31
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Some weapons never get developed, when the "counter" weapon system seems far ahead and way to advanced. Plate armor was mainly developed for cavalary so anything that would kill/incapacitate the mount would render it widely useless.

Several systems come to mind, like arrow propelled, far range bolas, bolts with neurotoxins etc., tripwires, pheromones etc.

If the counter tatctic is wide spread, a system may never have a chance to unfold and then be overtaken by another system.

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Go Pure Communism

Since the goal is to be left alone, not be unnoticed at all, you don't need to hide the existence of the star systems. You just need to make sure there are no opportunities for outsiders who might want to come in. In a Capitolist star system, there is always the opportunity for outside investors to come in, establish or gain control of businesses, and make a profit. But when they show up in your star system with a great deal on a ship load of hyperdrive parts, there is no one with any money or trade goods to buy them. The government politely declines the offer and sends them back to where they came. If they try to settle down and start a business anyway, they are arrested and thier assets all seized for violating anti-profiting laws.

The arrested persons are then deported to thier native government after a nominal level of mistreatment to prevent international incidents while making sure that those outsiders are adequately dissuaded from wanting to come back.

So, the only way to make a living here would be to establish citizenship and let the government take care of you, but the government does not allow immigration; so, outsiders have no way of making a living or being supported here. So, visitors can technically come, but they can only stay as long as they are living off of thier own supplies.

With no jobs, tourism, or immigration opportunities you eliminate 99% of the reasons that anyone might want to come to your star systems. The for that last 1% that shows up anyway out of matters of curiosity or diplomatic opportunities, you establish visitor zones that you direct any incoming ships to. These would be isolated outposts away from any colonies where you can welcome guests until you have the opportunity to politely ask them to leave while keeping them adequately far away from being able to make observations or influences on your culture.

Where Data Manipulation Comes into Play

The key information you want to manipulate is your military and economic capabilities. If the outside world thinks you are too strong and poor, they may come after you out of fear. If you look too rich and weak, they may come after you out of greed. But, if they simply have no clue what your military and economic capabilities are, then there is too much risk in contesting your government's sovereignty; so, other governments will have no reason to believe that a war with you would yield any desirable outcomes.

Focus on Surveillance Technologies

The only real risk this leaves would be the spies and surveillance ships deployed by foreign powers. Spies should not be too hard to deal with for a space aged totalitarian government. Every citizen will be marked at birth for tracking their resource distributions. From there, its not hard to tell who is not marked to be able to spot a spy the second they step foot into a public area.

That means the only thing you need to fudge to make sure they can enforce thier isolation is to make sure thier ability to detect a ship in thier space is better than any other nation's ability to cloak/stealth thier way in.

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Alternative version of my answer :). (replace star with center of nebula and adjust distances as necessary)

Don't hide anything. Just choose nebula located in places where setting's regular interstellar drive works bad.

As in: Regular ships enter normal space in 3 AU from star and travel on regular (and slow) interplanetary drive. Regular ships travel 10 light-years in 10 days.

This nebula located in hyperspace anomaly so would it would take 3 years to travel last 10 light-years and ships must enter normal space 300 AU from star in center of nebula and use their interplanetary drives to travel those 300 AU.

Outcasts could use 6 years to travel but why would anybody else check this place?

Potential disadvantage: 300 years in future technologies improve and military ship with trained pilots who have nothing else to do because they escaped from their own planed - could just decide to check this anomaly. Because of improved tech - they are able to pass anomaly in 10 days and emerge in normal space just 30 AU from star. Oops, nice colony you have here. This colony needs Emperor.

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