The Kardashev scale is a novelty method of measuring a civilization’s level of technological advancement based on the energy usage of a extraterrestrial civilization. It was proposed by Soviet Astronomer Nikolai Kardashev in 1964. The scale determine three levels as of:

  • Type I civilization: also called a planetary civilization that can use and store all of the energy available on its own planet.
  • Type II civilization: Which could can be classified as an stellar civilization that can harness the total energy of its own planet’s parent star where the most popular concept has been coined as the Dyson Sphere using a device which would encompass the entire star to transfer its whole energy to the planet or surrounding planets.
  • Type III civilization it will be classified as a galactic civilization able to control energy on the scale of its entire host galaxy.

The scale is hypothetical, and regards energy consumption on a cosmic scale. Various extensions of the scale have since been proposed, including a wider range of power levels (types 0, IV and V) and the use of metrics other than pure power.

How is defined?

Type I technological level of a civilization that can harness all the energy that falls on a planet from its parent star (for Earth-Sun system, this value is close to 7×1017 watts), which is more than five orders of magnitude higher than the amount presently attained on earth, with energy consumption at ≈4×1019 erg/sec (4 × 1012 watts). The astronomer Guillermo A. Lemarchand stated this as a level near contemporary terrestrial civilization with an energy capability equivalent to the solar insolation on Earth, between 1016 and 1017 watts.

Type IIA civilization capable of harnessing the energy radiated by its own star, for example, the stage of successful construction of a Dyson sphere with energy consumption at ≈4×1033 erg/sec. Lemarchand stated this as a civilization capable of utilizing and channeling the entire radiation output of its star. The energy utilization would then be comparable to the luminosity of our Sun, about 4×1033 erg/sec (4×1026 watts).

Type IIIA civilization in possession of energy on the scale of its own galaxy, with energy consumption at ≈4×1044 erg/sec. Lemarchand stated this as a civilization with access to the power comparable to the luminosity of the entire Milky Way galaxy, about 4×1044 erg/sec (4×1037 watts).

The current status of human civilization have not yet reached Type 1 civilization. Physicist and futurist Michio Kaku suggested that humans may attain type I status in the next 200 years, Type II status in a few thousand years, and Type III status in 100,000 to a million years if we don´t self destroy ourselves before.

To give you a sense, in 2012, total world energy consumption was 553 exajoules (553×1018 J=153,611 TWh), equivalent to an average power consumption of 17.54 TW (or 0.7244 on Sagan’s Kardashev scale).

Is anybody out there already?

In 2015, a study of galactic mid-infrared emissions came to the conclusion that “Kardashev Type-III civilizations are either very rare or do not exist in the observable universe.

On October 14, 2015, the detection of an unusual light curve for star KIC  8462852 raised speculation that a Dyson Sphere (Type II civilization) may have been discovered. The SETI institute´s initial radio reconnaissance of KIC 8462852, however, found no evidence of technology-related radio signals from the star.

In 2016, Paul Glister, author of the Centauri Dreams website, described a signal apparently from the star 164595as requiring the power of a Type I or Type II civilization, if produced by extraterrestrial lifeform.  However, in August 2016 it was discovered that the signal’s origin was most likely a military satellite orbiting the Earth.

There are many historical examples of human civilization undergoing large-scale transitions, such as the industrial revolution. The transition between Kardashev scale levels could potentially represent similarly dramatic periods of social upheaval, since they entail surpassing the hard limits of the resources available in a civilization’s existing territory. A common speculatio suggests that the transition from Type 0 to Type I might carry a strong risk of self-destruction since, in some scenarios, there would no longer be room for further expansion on the civilization’s home planet, as in a Malthusian catastrophe. Excessive use of energy without adequate disposal of heat, for example, could plausibly make the planet of a civilization approaching Type I unsuitable to the biology of the dominant lifeforms and their food sources. If Earth is an example, then sea temperatures in excess of 35 °C (95 °F) would jeopardize marine life and make the cooling of mammals to temperatures suitable for their metabolism difficult if not impossible. Of course, these theoretical speculations may not become problems possibly through the applications of future engineering and technology. Also, by the time a civilization reaches Type I it may have colonized other planets or created O´Neill type colonies so that waste heat could be distributed throughout the planetary system.


Author: Jesus Padilla

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