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For my sci-fi world, which spans the entire galaxy, I was wondering if an advanced civilization would build a space probe to explore a star. Would it be necessary and have any scientific benefits, or is a galaxy-spanning civilization above such an experiment? Basically I'm asking- Is it worth it?

P.S. Here in the real world, we plan to send a probe to explore our sun's photosphere in 2018, yet we only have one star we can explore and it remains that most of it is unexplored.

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    $\begingroup$ without any more specifics of your civilization, i'd say the answer is a definite "maybe" $\endgroup$ – Gnudiff Aug 14 '17 at 11:06
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    $\begingroup$ Any really galaxy spanning civ would have explored the star system long ago when it first arrived there. Now the system is full of infrastructure and is in use. The whole system is their home turf, filled with spacecraft and maybe a dyson swarm. Not the odd explorer but the constant flood of beings found in a city. If the suns photosphere affects them and constantly changes then it will be monitored, like weather on earth. Even if it doesn't effect their lives, recording the sun is scientifically interesting and they have a LOT of resources and tech. $\endgroup$ – Donald Hobson Aug 14 '17 at 11:12
  • $\begingroup$ If matter-energy conversion is available in your civilization, and they otherwise possess the ability to embed technology within the star - well, star-mining isn't really a probe, but mega-engineering might inspire them to dive into stars for energy and parts. $\endgroup$ – Sean Boddy Aug 14 '17 at 15:48
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe the upper echelon of scientists wouldn't need to any more, but maybe a high school or college student would for a project. $\endgroup$ – Azor Ahai Aug 14 '17 at 23:08
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    $\begingroup$ Sounds a bit like Brin's Sundiver, in which a few races of a galaxy-wide civilization build a sun probe for science. The probe is just a vehicle for the rest of the story (murder mystery, really), but Brin begins to build his novel-spanning universe, where many species are bickering zealots and information (for example, about the inner workings of stars) is a prized - and expensive - commodity. For the scientists involved, it is mostly about prestige and to show to the rest of the civilizations that they are also worthy players in galactic matters. $\endgroup$ – n_b Aug 15 '17 at 2:38

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It's for science! Isn't that reason enough? Frankly there will always more to study and understand about the structure, nature and physics of stars. Of course, a galaxy-wide civilization will build solar probes. In fact, a galaxy-wide civilization will have ample technology to explore stars. This will be routine research exploration technology.

They will want to know more about stars. There could be nothing simpler.

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    $\begingroup$ was about to comment "sure, curiosity" :) but yes. they will have ample reason to monitor stars. Think solar storm warning, trying to figure out what signs predict a star's death and hoping to get those warning signs far enough in advance to evacuate the system, etc. etc.. $\endgroup$ – jwenting Aug 15 '17 at 5:37
  • $\begingroup$ Note to mention that they would want to probe the star in any system they colonize in order to categorize it according to whatever system they have (which I assume is finer than our OBAFGKM). They would want to know how long it will live, and how bright they can expect it to be 100 000 years into the future. $\endgroup$ – Arthur Aug 15 '17 at 8:31
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Let's scale your question to our world. We are a planet wide civilization, do we explore small parts of our planets?

The answer is "Yes, if we deem them interesting". So we don't explore Central park (unless we are cops searching for drug dealers) but we send people exploring caves, mountains, forests, abandoned cities and so on and so forth, as long as we see the possibility to gain further knowledge (or wealth) from doing so. Even for Central Park!

Your galaxy wide civilization will likely act the same. If they spot a star which look interesting (i.e. a star with carbon and water rich planets, and they want to see how and if life evolve there) they can try to explore it and gain further insight for their progress.

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    $\begingroup$ Well, we might even explore Central Park, if new developments make it worthwhile again (like an invasive species colonizing it) $\endgroup$ – Chieron Aug 14 '17 at 12:43
  • $\begingroup$ @Chieron, point taken! ;) $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Aug 14 '17 at 13:38
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    $\begingroup$ Good point. Only because a civilizations "spans" a specific area, it doesn't necessarily mean it knows or exploits everything contained in that area. Difficult to say when humanity will actually know everything there's to know about earth, and we colonized most parts of it a long time ago. Well, if one ignores the oceans, that is. $\endgroup$ – r41n Aug 14 '17 at 14:57
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    $\begingroup$ For that matter, I "explored" Central Park a couple years back when I was in Manhattan. I didn't have the resources to build a probe, but I only need to convince one eccentric billionaire that it's where the Great Pyramids were originally constructed (before the aliens moved them to Egypt), and we'll have that Central Park exploratory mission, complete with probe. $\endgroup$ – HopelessN00b Aug 15 '17 at 0:45
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    $\begingroup$ Hell, we humans occasionally need to probe our own bodies to figure things out, even though we are the bodies. $\endgroup$ – Martijn Heemels Aug 15 '17 at 8:10
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I upvote some of the above. One answer not mentioned: ensuring there is nothing wrong with the star.

I presume a galaxy spanning civilization knows a great deal more about stars and how they work than we humans know now; so perhaps internal probes would help them decide on th exact makeup and "health" of the star before they begin colonizing the system or using it for some purpose. They want to know the precise age, how much fuel remains, internal circulation patterns, any unusual chemical makeup, and ensure there are no microscopic black holes lurking in it. Or whatever else their super-advanced knowledge about stars might demand.

In the system itself they might want to install some kind of sensory apparatus or "Claim Stake" to report on future developments; or register the territory as claimed so others know they are planning to begin development here in the next million years. It is a galactic civilization after all, surely there must be rules and regulations governing the use and appropriation of natural resources like star systems.

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    $\begingroup$ Definitely star diagnostics and possibly maintenance ... they will study healthy stars for comparison, as well as future settlements. But any change in the cycles of stars in well settled areas may be cause for alarm, possibly even evacuation. Star probing is likely to be big - and important - business. $\endgroup$ – Brian Drummond Aug 14 '17 at 14:04
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Never Underestimate the demands of an Intergalactic Bureaucracy

Surely a galaxy spanning empire would have an enormous bureaucracy and all good bureaucracies have certain legal obligations they must follow. Why not make your sun probe one of them? Have them send a sun probe because they are obligated to monitor all solar out put in the outer galactic arm following some recent change in galactic legislation designed to protect endangered migrating glow worms living in the Kuiper Belt. Not all actions must be driven by rational or scientific reasons.

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    $\begingroup$ Sure you can predict the interior state of a star from viewing the surface from far away, but that leads to a 0.0001% chance of an incorrect 'weather' report, since there are hundreds of billions of stars that means every day you are wrong somewhere. More hassle than the cost of a probe since you might get a good price break for a trillion units. $\endgroup$ – user25818 Aug 14 '17 at 16:11
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We have no more Terra Incognita (AKA "Here be dragons"), but there is stil lot of exploration made for exemple by scientists who will study a forest to see if they are endemic species. Or just some random young man who see a cave, and decide to explore it with friends, even if the cave have already been explored. Even if a civilization is settled in an area, all square centimeters are not fully explored. But as we are curious, we will continue exploration forever

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The technology needed to colonise isn't all that advanced. The main problem is making ships (and crews) which can last the journey. Assuming no faster-than-light travel or communications, in a galaxy spanning civilisation, some parts will have technology thousands of years ahead of other parts. The Milky way is 100'000 light years across, therefore, even if some parts of the civilisation know everything about stars, it could take 50'000 years for the information to reach the whole galaxy. So some parts are still likely to want to research stars.

I guess it depends how recently your civilisation colonised the entire galaxy, and if it is an ongoing process.

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Preconditions

Bank's The Algebraist and many other works feature galactic scale civilizations connected by wormhole networks, but with only relativistic (i.e. slow and expensive; possibly very slow and expensive) real-space travel.

Systems off the network are isolated at best, and not worth bothering with unless there is something significant to be gained.

Even if wormholes can be created or moved, a sufficiently "boring" appearing system sufficiently far from a terminus might go unexplored for the simple reason that no one cares.

Justifying the Mission

If something happens to make the star of an unused system 'interesting' a decision has to be made about sending a probe or a crewed mission. But, keep in mind that the crew will be putting many years of travel time between themselves and their current lives, so crewed missions won't be undertaken lightly. Calibrate the level of interestingness and a probe becomes likely.

The fly in the ointment

Your civilization will have vast remote sensing capabilities as they will be able to correlate data taken from many different angles. They will be able to reliably count the number of significant planets, approximate their orbits, and know at least roughly the content of any atmospheres involved. They'll be able to tell how many large moons the planets of the system have. They may be able to guess at the mass and density of any asteroid belt.

They'll know a huge amount about the lifecycle and behavior of stars and will be able to categorize stars with great accuracy without visiting the system.

In short it's going to take some work (or handwaving) to set up a mystery that is interesting enough for a probe but doesn't justify a crewed expedition.

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  • $\begingroup$ We landed a probe on a comet. And we have sent them all over our solar system. Isn't novelty a good enough mystery? Our team was the first to collect readings and samples from the surface of a star! $\endgroup$ – BlackThorn Aug 14 '17 at 23:06
  • $\begingroup$ @TBear Why in the world would you assume that it's never been done before in that kind of setting? Just going to a star is boring, low tech stuff that was done a dozen times before people first explored an off-the-network system. The question is why would they send a probe to a star now? $\endgroup$ – dmckee Aug 14 '17 at 23:08
  • $\begingroup$ Probably visiting the surface of a star is less mundane for even a galactic civilization then you might give it credit for. The surface temperature of our sun is higher than the melting point of most known materials. The gravitational acceleration is about 30x Earths. Transmitted data from the surface would be drowned out by nuclear activity screaming at every electromagnetic frequency. $\endgroup$ – BlackThorn Aug 14 '17 at 23:21
  • $\begingroup$ Even if the craft could survive on the surface, could its instruments? Could its propulsion system? A star's surface is probably only 2nd to how inhospitable a black hole is. $\endgroup$ – BlackThorn Aug 14 '17 at 23:24
  • $\begingroup$ Er ... depending on the definition of 'surface' you care to adopt we have plans for doing it now. All that is lacking is the budget. For a lose enough definition of 'surface' it's not merely sketched out out, but funded and scheduled. $\endgroup$ – dmckee Aug 14 '17 at 23:24
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A simple probe, no, probably not. Something different, sure.

A galaxy-spanning civilization will have seen (probed) some 100 billion or so stars. Even with the ability of travelling close to the speed of light, it takes a few moments (slight understatement) to cross a galaxy, so they had way enough time looking at them, too. There is only so much you can learn from looking at the same thing (in small variations, but still the same thing) again and over again. A probe is more or less just that, looking at the thing (from close up).

Mankind does experiments with rats, feeding them drugs and cutting open their bellies to see what it did (that's a very gross simplification, but basically that's it).

Although I doubt that since the dawn of science, we've even killed 100 billion rats (this is a huge number!), there sure isn't anything interesting to learn from the rat per se by looking at it. We know what they look like, we know that they smell like, and we even know they gnaw through cables.
However, it is very interesting to see how a rat reacts to drug A or drug B, or how nutrient C affects its ability to exit a maze in a given time, or extends (or shortens) its lifetime.

Thus, they might attempt to, I don't know... turn a star into a supernova, or try if they can change the color or somehow inhibit the fusion (idea shamelessly stolen from Star Trek Generations), or whatever. Anything that is science and fun.
Only just... merely looking at the thing, bah. Seen that before.

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It depends on what kind of civilisation you are writing about.

What I mean is, if your writing is exploring or representing aspects of human nature/politics/scientific curiosity/ etc. in a galaxy spanning civilisation, then said civilisation needs no other fundamental reason for the study of a star other than "Because it's there." Otherwise why would mountain climbers keep trying to summit Everest, countries argue over who "owns" the Arctic circle, or, to a certain extent, scientists bother with repeating experiments? Or even why would anyone watch paint dry (just to see how boring it is!)?

So this immediately offers some solutions: for sport, due to a border dispute, to confirm previous findings, or even just to explore the use of a turn of phrase. It may even be for religious reasons similar to Sybok's search for Sha Ka Ree. Or, to repeat, merely because it is there.

Is it as a result of scientific endeavour: Is it a naturally/artificially formed star? If artificially, perhaps it is merely being monitored or perhaps it is malfunctioning. Is the star already exhibiting interesting behaviour (a type of radiation we've never encountered before, John) and further study is required? In addition, is it a remote-probe or a manned-probe? If the former, perhaps it is a test of a newly developed material/scanning system/method of transmission? If the latter, has this been done before/is it dangerous/is it a school field trip or experiment?

Is it down to galactic resources: Is the star a potential power source for a transportation device? Or a weapon? (though perhaps not a good choice given a recent Lucasfilm/Disney production) Is the star being surveyed for a potential mining opportunity?

Does your galaxy spanning civilisation need to make sense, for the reader, of why it is sending a probe at all? For example, any of the alien items encountered by the protagonists of H. P. Lovecraft stories (admittedly they usually do just make the person go mad but that's not usually using the item for it's intended purpose!), or even more simply "Everybody has a Plumbus, but how are they made?..."

There is also the possibility that the civilisation has reached such an advanced point in technological achievement that the inhabitants now know only THAT they live in this galactic community and THAT this machine allows faster-than-light travel etc. but they no longer remember how or why. An extreme example of this would be the film Idiocracy. Consequently, even though the civilisation may be technologically advanced, the collective knowledge base is relatively limited, so even a launching a simple solar probe would not be considered a redundant action.

I hope this helps/I haven't overlapped too much with other's answers!

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Maybe there was a technological barrier? We have explored the earth but diving deep in the ocean or reaching certain places in the poles is still a challenge or can't even be done.

Also, maybe for something like a challenge? Everest is a feat humanity reached long ago but we still go there every now and then to prove how brave/skilled/whatever we are

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It could be that the civilization is looking for alternative power sources, and wants to research fusion - given that stars are basically just massive fusion reactions.

The only problem with this is if they're a galaxy-wide civilization they should already have a pretty solid power generation method.

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Sure. Lots of reasons. 1 Political convenience---I have introduced a bill that will add X jobs by constructing probes to map poorly traveled regions of space. 2 Investigating anomalies---We keep losing ships in this area so we need to determine what causes this. 3 Sensors/scanners/radio on automated craft could act as a communications network for disabled ships, such that search/rescue operations are performed on a much more timely basis. Might also reduce the likelihood of piracy on commercial shipping lanes. 4 Military planning---Publicly stated reasons above might cover use of probes designed to detect if a group of planets are planning to secede from the main government and building up a war fleet. 5 Keeping an eye out for exo-galactic phenomena arriving. 6 We lost contact with a planet. Lets go check it out. Did they have a war that bombed them to the stone ages, or a plague or natural disaster? 7 We are still hunting for dark matter. Its still playing hide and seek. 8 Our industry is hunting for more sources of unobtanium, that might have been missed in earlier surveys, or have more recently been deposited on planets after initial surveys. 9 Monkey boys are still curious, so we still wanna look around. There might be something new since the last time we looked. 10 We need a really isolated place to send a few political prisoners. A probe ends up being a cover story to hide where they are exiled.

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I think that since there are certain prerequisite steps to technological innovation, e.g, tires and wagons before engines and suspension systems, probes to suns would have been an early prerequisite. As you mentioned, we are doing this already, and we aren't close to being a galaxy spanning civilization. But I could see thousands or millions of probes sent out in all directions to act as both a communication network for far reaching planets, and as a way to further push our boundaries of understanding on the frontiers of space. Surely these probes would bump into some interesting events from time to time.

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    $\begingroup$ "Surely these probes would bump into some interesting events from time to time." I think you are overestimating the excitement of outer space, and/or underestimating the magnitude of the events that we typically are interested in. Space is cold, dark, hostile, and bland. Outside of the immediate vicinity of a star (out to a few dozen, maybe a hundred or so, AU), one part of space really isn't very different from another. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Aug 15 '17 at 14:36
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Yes, everything in the universe should be deeply explored if it's safe to do so and if this civilization develops the correct probe I can't see why a star shouldn't be explored.

It's like the armor-weapon paradox - if you develop yourself strong enough to penetrate X, which is "dangerous", then you can learn something about the origin of X and what makes it dangerous and develop a "dangerous weapon" from X material and knowledge, which obviously a "good weapon" let's yourself explore wider, and find "new dangerous entities to explore/harvest" and loop.

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