The Kardashev Scale – An Exploration – Part 1
In March 2022 this blog looked at the Kardashev Scale of galactic civilizations and summarized their proposed definitions: https://claytongraham.com.au/civilisations-of-the-universe/
I thought this was worth revisiting in a more detailed way, so the next few blogs will look at each type in ascending order. Let’s see what we can make of it all.
But first up: Who was Nikolai Kardashev?
Nikolai Kardashev was born in Moscow on 25 April 1932 to a family of professional revolutionaries involved with the Bolshevik Party. Both of his parents were arrested during the Great Purge of 1937 and 1938. Due to his parents’ absence, he was sent to an orphanage from which he was then taken by his mother’s sister. Following the death of his aunt when he was 16 years old, he then had to live on his own in a large communal flat. His mother was released in 1956, by which time Nikolai had completed university.
Following this adversity, Nikolai Kardashev became one of the earliest, and most consequential, SETI practitioners.
He became deputy director of the Space Research Institute of the Academy of Sciences, Moscow, and conducted the first Soviet search for intelligent extraterrestrial signals in 1963.
An early advocate of the idea that some alien races may be billions of years ahead of us, he proposed a classification for such super civilizations and recommended that searches for them concentrate on the infrared and millimeter-wave ranges of the spectrum, rather than the centimeter-wave range.
Nikolai Kardashev passed away on August 3, 2019.
For the technically adept, Kardashev’s scale is included in a five-page paper published in 1964 and called “Transmission of information by extraterrestrial civilizations.” (The paper was originally published in Russian, but an English translation was published the same year.) https://adsabs.harvard.edu/pdf/1964SvA…..8..217K
Type One Civilizations
Type I civilizations are able to harvest planetary power utilizing all the sunlight that strikes their planet. They can, perhaps, harness the power of volcanoes, manipulate the weather, control earthquakes, and build cities on the ocean. All planetary power is within their control.
Kardashev described Type I as a “technological level close to the level presently attained on the Earth”. Because humans have not harnessed the equivalent of the entire energy of Earth, other scientists have said [perhaps generously] that humans rank as more like a 0.7.
Michio Kaku. a professor of theoretical physics at the City College of New York and the CUNY Graduate Center, concluded if human growth averages at a rate of about 3% per year, we will reach Type I in 100~200 years.
As will be seen on later blogs this puts us at the extreme lower end of the scale, despite our apparently brilliant scientific advances.
Nikolai Kardashev was undoubtedly a great mind. His ideas linking energy and alien civilizations will no doubt continue to fascinate both scientists and laymen alike. A Type I civilization is usually defined as one that can harness all the energy that reaches its home planet from its parent star (for Earth, this value is about 2×1017 watts). We are not even close to that.
Next time, we look at Type 2 civilizations.
References and Further Reading