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So, I'm writing a set of short stories (i.e. in the "Martian Chronicles" format). It was going to be centered around life on Earth through the sudden dissapearance of the Sun, but after surprinsingly extensive research, I concluded there is not even a theorically plausible (let alone realistic) way this could happen. I toyed around with the possibility of mankind accidentally burning the skies, but I didn't like it, so, after some more reading, I found out the Sun is actually losing tons of mass on a daily basis. Naturally, due to the huge amount of mass it's composed of, that loss makes virtually no difference, barely losing grip on us at a rate of ~ 1.5cm a year.

I need the earth's average temperature to reach 274 K (around 0° C) in the first two years, so I calculated that I would need a total loss mass of 8,7x10^25 tons a year for the Earth to drift considerably away from the Sun and the stories to work.

So, all this being said...does anyone know a way that this could plausibly happen? I'm not talking about realism. That went out of the window on day 1.

I've read something about black holes migrating and solar wind, but I couldn't find any more data on it, probably because it ain't worth discussing for real scientists.

Any help would be appreciated.

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  • $\begingroup$ Check out "Exotic Stars" and relation to dark matter. $\endgroup$ – spicetraders Oct 7 '16 at 22:29
  • $\begingroup$ Star Lifting is a technological means of removing mass from stars, although two years is far to short for a plausible removal of that much mass. $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Oct 7 '16 at 22:54
  • $\begingroup$ Does the temperature loss have to be via changes to the Sun? What technology level is available? Does this happen by natural causes? By accident? On purpose? $\endgroup$ – Schwern Oct 7 '16 at 22:57
  • $\begingroup$ I've been thinking about an era when science advances to a point that it's actually changing the nature of spacetime. This would be in a period of time when most of the questions about matter and energy have been answered, and ways to investigate the nature of spacetime itself have begun. What if a botched experiment made a huge portion of the sun stop existing? $\endgroup$ – Howard Miller Oct 7 '16 at 22:58
  • $\begingroup$ Nuclear winter? start with pissing off Mr. Kim so much so he skips AA gun entirely as capital punishment! $\endgroup$ – user6760 Oct 8 '16 at 4:21
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When I was a kid, David Copperfield made the Statue Of Liberty "disappear" in front of a live audience. He covered it up with a giant curtain supported by two large towers. It was there when the curtain went up, and gone when it came down! Wow!

enter image description here

Obviously he didn't make the statue disappear. Instead while the curtain covered the statue and he was yammering he very slowly rotated the whole platform that himself, the audience, TV cameras, and the dazzling curtain supporting towers were on. When the curtain came down, the statue was hidden behind one of the towers.

If you want to make a big thing "disappear" don't move the big thing, cover it up, or move the little one.

Cover up the Sun

Build a sun shield in space at the L1 Earth-Sun point. It doesn't have to completely block the Sun, it can just make it a bit dimmer. It doesn't even have to be solid, a cloud of particles will do the trick.

Alternatively you can increase Earth's albedo, how much sunlight is reflected back into space, by darkening the skies. Some have labelled this Solar Radiation Management to balance out global warming. Your story could begin with an attempt at SRM gone wrong.

Move the Earth

I need the earth's average temperature to reach 274 K (around 0° C) in the first two years, so I calculated that I would need a total loss mass of 8,7x10^25 tons a year for the Earth to drift considerably away from the Sun and the stories to work.

The Earth is a mere 6x1021 tonnes, 10,000 times less massive. It's also sitting much further outside the Sun's gravity than the Sun itself requiring far less momentum. It's much easier to move the Earth to a more distant orbit than it is to remove mass from the Sun.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'd prefer the event to be of natural causes, although can't discard man-made screw up if nothing else proves useful. Regarding the "sun-behind-the-blancket" solution, I've researched and found that a cloud sitting on L-1 would have to be ~ 62k km in diameter to completely block the sun, which in turn posss the question "Where did such a massive dust cloud come from"? About the possibility of a SRM gone wrong (I didn't know the correct name), I discarded it because of the forever darkened skies. I'd much rather keep the atmosphere translucid (for star seeing and such). $\endgroup$ – Fernando92 Oct 8 '16 at 8:02
  • $\begingroup$ Regarding the "Move the Earth" solution, I thought of it, but I felt that it would be "cheating", since that's the exact solution Fritz Leiber used in his short story "A pail of air", one of my sources of inspiration for writing this. Also, I liked better the possibility of the Sun just shrinking and dropping us. But thanks anyway. $\endgroup$ – Fernando92 Oct 8 '16 at 8:07
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If there was some natural phenomenon that could cause this, we would notice it elsewhere in the Universe already. There are lots of stars to see.

It has to be technological. And why would aliens pick on our star, in such a manner? Again, if that was going on more generally we would see it elsewhere.

The most satisfying answer is that mankind did it by accident. Maybe while trying to invent a warp drive or open a wormhole, it accidentally got out of control; perhaps the device fell into the sun while still “open” and hoovered out a bunch of material before failing; or the effect was focused on the large mass nearby in an unexpected manner.

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  • $\begingroup$ Plus one for the wormhole idea, because it was the first thing I thought of when I saw the question. Agreed it has to be technological, and spectacularly so. Aliens can have accidents too, humans don't have a monopoly. To all the Star Lifters, sorry, that's not spectacular enough. $\endgroup$ – a4android Oct 8 '16 at 11:31
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It's been done before, and it can done again. They say good artists borrow, and great artists steal, so it's time to nick the answer from someone who's already used it to cool down the Sun. I refer, of course, to the movie Sunshine (2007) which postulated q-balls would be responsible for shutting down the Sun.

The concept wasn't used explicitly in the movie, that is, no-one explained this was going on inside the Sun, but the concept was devised by physicist Brian Cox, the movie's science consultant.

Cox reasoned as follows in setting up the basic rationale about why the Sun might cool down and the physics of dark matter that might permit the existence of q-balls.

The Sun will not live forever. It has enough fuel left, if our current understanding is correct, for another 5 billion years, at which point it will die. But could it be possible for the Sun to die much sooner, within the next 100 years even? From a scientific perspective, it should be said that this is very unlikely. But, it is also true that there is a lot about the universe that we do not understand.

Over the last few years astronomers have observed that there is extra "stuff" in the universe that we can see only by its gravitational influence on stars and galaxies. This stuff goes by the name of Dark Matter, and there is five times as much Dark Matter in the universe as there is normal matter, the stuff that makes up you, me, and the stars and planets we can see with our telescopes. What is this mysterious stuff? It's possible, some scientists would say likely even, that this stuff is made of particles known as supersymmetric particles, a new and exotic form of matter that is high on the list of potential discoveries at CERN's giant Large Hadron Collider, a 27km in circumference machine which begins operations this year after almost a decade of construction.

Once the possibility of dark matter in the form of supersymmetric particles has been established, he reasoned how q-balls might influence the Sun and cause it to cool down.

Theoretical physicists have spent many years calculating the properties of these supersymmetric particles, and we have a reasonable theoretical understanding of how they might behave. One possibility is that they could clump together into giant balls known as Q-balls. If this is true, then these heavy and exotic objects could have been made billionths of a second after our Universe began, and still be roaming the Universe today. It is speculated that, if a Q-ball drifts into the heart of a super-dense object such as a neutron star, it could begin to eat away at it's [sic] core like a cancer, until the star is no longer massive enough to maintain itself and explodes in a violent explosion. Such explosions, known as gamma ray bursts, are seen in the Universe, although their cause is as yet unknown.

Could such a dangerous, exotic object drift into the Sun's core and cause it to stop shining? It is likely that the Sun is many times too diffuse to stop a Q-ball - it would power right through. But maybe, just maybe, some strange exotic form of matter from the earliest times in the universe could settle deep within the Sun's core, and disrupt its function enough to cause the catastrophic scenario seen in Sunshine. It's far-fetched, but we have a saying in physics that anything that isn't explicitly ruled out is therefore possible, so in the final analysis, you never quite know.

While the physics is a bit iffy, but that's not a problem for science-fiction, the q-ball concept is plausible in terms of current physics. Also, as Brian Cox points out, this scenario does explain some natural phenomena we do observe in the universe.

Also, not discussed by Brian Cox, is the fact that it takes roughly one million years for the energy produced at the centre of the Sun to migrate to its surface. This suggests that, if the Sun was cooled by a q-ball, that the q-ball would have entered the Sun about one million years ago.

EDIT 2016-October-09:

Because Citizen JDlugosz requested additional information about the q-ball's mechanism further research has been undertaken by your humble interlocutor. A full discussion can be found here, but its arguments will be laid out in the following.

While the story might recall the asteroid-detonating plot of Michael Bay’s Armageddon (1998), the mission aboard Icarus 2 is far more complex: Here, the astronauts aim to destroy a supersymmetric particle called a Q-Ball that is eating the Sun from the inside out.

First posited some 20 years ago by Harvard physicist Sidney Coleman, a Q-Ball is a super-heavy object that could have formed during the Big Bang and would have the ability to break down ordinary matter made of protons and neutrons. Normally, protons are stable because they are the lightest particles to carry a conserved quantum number called the baryon number, and there is no way for them to get rid of this number and decay. But Q-balls, made from tightly packed supersymmetric particles that can accommodate a baryon number at lesser energetic cost than a proton, allow the proton to disintegrate, while the baryon number of the Q-ball increases. Q-Balls, says Dr. Cox, "can be pictured as giant agglomerations of supersymmetric particles that could, if they drifted into the heart of a star, eat away like a cancer, eventually destroying the star from within."

Because q-balls are highly speculative entities, there are objections from other physicists about their feasibility, and as Sun-stoppers.

But there are several major problems on which this premise rests, not least of which is that supersymmetry and Q-Balls are as yet completely unproven. Even Cox admits that our sun is not dense enough to hold a hypothetical Q-Ball. Because the supersymmetric Q-ball is a very compact assembly of heavy particles packed in a small volume, it is billions of times denser than an atomic nucleus, so it would fly right through the sun "like a knife through whip cream," says UCLA physicist Alexander Kusenko, one of the leading Q-Ball researchers. Kusenko theorizes that a more likely target for a Q-Ball is a neutron star, which is far denser than the sun.

But for argument's sake, even if a Q-Ball did invade the sun and started eating the solar matter, New York University's Georgi Dvali, co-author with Kusenko and Mikhail Shaposhnikov of the paper "New Physics in a Nutshell, or Q-ball as a Power Plant," says the energy released by this process would be so high that "the intensity of the sun's radiation should increase enormously." He adds, "So then the problem of our civilization will not be the sun's death, but rather enormous radiation before it."

As Kusenko says, "You would not be freezing, you would be fried."

Actually Brian Cox acknowledged that neutron stars were more likely to stop a q-ball and then have gnarl out their internal matter until their gravitation was reduced to a level where the neutron star could no longer hold itself together and end in a vast explosion. However, even if the exotic matter was present in our Sun to make a q-ball stop and damp down thermonuclear reactions, this might not stop Earth from being fried as the Sun passed through its red giant phase prematurely before it could cool down.

UCLA professor of solar physics Roger Ulrich doubts that humankind would even be around if the Earth got to a point where it was freezing over. By that point, as he sees it, the sun would have already passed through the red giant phase into a cooling white dwarf. "Well before the sun makes it too cold for us, we are going to get seriously roasted and quite possibly the whole earth could be evaporated and incorporated into the solar gas," he says.

In summary, the q-ball can only be regarded as a plausible mechanism for cooling a star if certain ad hoc assumptions are made. This is a typical dilemma when scientific concepts are imported into science-fiction to make its fantastic content seem realistic or naturalistic. The science itself often has to be stretched and bent to fit the fictional circumstances; quite enough out of, and, in many case, well beyond what many scientists would consider reasonable deviations from scientific possibility.

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  • $\begingroup$ So how does this q-ball disrupt the energy production? 8f it’s a type of dark matter I expect very little interaction at all. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Oct 8 '16 at 19:07
  • $\begingroup$ @JDługosz This is one detail not explained by Professor Cox. I would like to know too. $\endgroup$ – a4android Oct 9 '16 at 8:11
  • $\begingroup$ So without further explaination it’s just a McGuffin. And it suffers from the problem noted in my answer of why would we not see it happen to other stars or why bother only our star. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Oct 9 '16 at 11:05
  • $\begingroup$ This sounds a bit like the idea of "Strange" matter, where strange quarks replace the normal quarks. $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Oct 9 '16 at 20:20
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The first thing that came to mind was the Star Forge from Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, that effectively funneled mass from the star it orbited (yes, Bioware had the idea long before Episode 7 was written). It is a tad small, however, sustaining from a single star for a looong time, so you could scale it up a bit to take mass over a much smaller time frame.

It also reminded me of the Vasari Loyalists from Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion:

Vasari Loyalists are a nomadic variation on the traditional Vasari formula. The Vasari Loyalists can generate income with their capital ships and build research facilities on them, and set their Titan as a mobile capital world. They can also completely drain planets of resources, leaving dead husks behind. Their Titan is capable of seeding each gravity well with a phase gate, allowing Vasari fleets access to valuable shortcuts, as well as reducing the cost of building a phase gate network.

For a story like yours, elements from both might work:

Some advanced alien race travels from solar system to solar system, using some unknown technology to fuel their massive fleet by funneling mass from the stars. They showed up, shaved off a significant portion of mass for their fleet, and then vanished.

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Look up Star Lifting...

Star lifting is specifically removing matter from stars. They don't do it on the scale you want, but they still do it...

Video that was just made on the subject by I think a physicist, not sure

So there is the first option...

The second option which is a combination of the technique briefly mentioned but not discussed in there; ram-scooping, but not conventionally. Add the idea of a wormhole portal, especially if you can change exit points like the star gate network. You can literally just find a place to put it in the universe and just ram scoop the Hydrogen with the wormhole active, transporting it to that storage location. You could "probably" remove that much material very fast and easy.


Of course both of these options suppose alien interference. If that's out, I'm not sure what to tell you...

I'm pretty sure it wouldn't work if you need a natural phenomena, but there are stars that draw material off their companion. If you have a Blackhole come in the solarsystem on the opposite side of Earth's orbit and draw off a bunch of material, but continue on out of the solar system. Not sure if that would draw enough material off or if it would be possible for that to happen.

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