Can we extend the sun’s life?
A very futuristic way exists, and it brings with it a number of numerous other benefits. It’s a machine called Star Engine. A megastructure whose primary purpose is to move the entire solar system where you want, and as a side effect of its operation, to increase the longevity of its star.
To move the entire solar system, all you need to do is move the sun, since everything else is gravitationally tied to it. There are two different types of machinery to do this.
The simplest is the “Shkadov thruster”, a huge mirror parabola-shaped that reflects up to half of the photons emitted by a star, together with their momentum, thus receiving a slow push in the opposite direction.
To make it work, the mirror must be positioned above one of the poles of the sun, otherwise you risk incinerating part of the solar system.
For this reason we could only move the solar system in a direction perpendicular to the plane where the planets rotate.
(Image not to scale)
The mirror would be pushed towards the star if the attraction were not balanced by the pressure of the solar radiation emitted by the star itself.
The reason the solar wind provides enough thrust to defeat gravity is that the mirror is made of a very thin and light material based on aluminum alloys.
Such a machine could move the entire solar system 100 light-years in about 245 million years. Quite slow.
A more complicated but also faster version is called the “Caplan Thruster”.
It is a large space station powered by the sun and by another megastructure, the Dyson sphere (Dyson sphere — Wikipedia).
It needs millions of tons of solar matter per second to function. To get the fuel it needs, it channels hydrogen and helium from the solar wind and the upper surface of the sun with powerful electromagnetic fields.
However, the solar wind alone is not enough to power the star engine. We need a Dyson sphere capable of re-focusing part of the energy absorbed by the sun, in a narrow area on its surface.
In this way, small regions of the sun’s surface can be heated to extreme temperatures, lifting billions of tons of matter from the star, which is also channeled into the engine by electromagnetic fields.
The collected hydrogen and helium are then separated once inside the engine.
Helium is burned in a nuclear fusion reactor, producing a billion-degree jet of radioactive oxygen as waste. The ejected particles have a speed equal to 1% of the speed of light, and this beam constitutes the main propulsion system of our star engine.
Instead, hydrogen is thrown back to the solar surface after being channeled and accelerated by the magnetic fields of a particle accelerator. The resulting ray serves to hold the engine still, counteracting the attraction of the star.
This star engine version is much faster than the previous one: it can make a star travel 50 light years in a million years. And in 10 million years it can provide total mastery over the orbit of the solar system.
Such a structure could be built by an advanced civilization trying to prevent future dangers that their solar system could face. It’s fast enough to avoid a supernova for example.
Such a machine would enable us to transform the entire solar system into our personal spaceship. The implications would be very interesting.
For example, we could make the sun rotate around the center of the galaxy in a reversed direction, thus exploring and colonizing other solar systems as they pass us by. All of this without ever moving away from Earth.
Finally, to answer the question, we would also have the added benefit of extending the life of the Sun.
This is because, although the Caplan Thruster needs billions of tons of solar material, even such amount of matter is barely able to affect the sun in its entirety.
And that little mass that is consumed makes the sun age slower, since a star of lower mass burns its fuel more slowly.
We would therefore extend the life of the Sun and life on earth by many millions of years, as well as being able to travel the galaxy while always staying at home, if we had such a prodigy.
This post is a mere adaptation of the following video, which is also the source of all images: https://youtu.be/v3y8AIEX_dU