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What is the Kardashev Scale?

Michael Anissimov
Updated May 21, 2024
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The Kardashev scale is a way of classifying how technologically advanced a civilization is. The scale originally ranged from Type I to Type III, although in recent years Type 0, Type IV and Type V civilizations have been informally added.

A Kardashev Type I civilization would be one that is able to harness all the power available on a single planet. This figure has been quoted as about 10^16 Watts, though it might be much larger. To truly harness all the power of a planet would require its disassembly and reconfiguration into a gigantic solar panel much thinner and larger than the original Earth. It would also theoretically require fusing together all atomic nuclei with a mass lower than that of iron, and fissioning all atomic nuclei with a mass greater than that of iron, in order to extract the energy. The available energy would be several orders of magnitude larger than typical guesses.

Because Earth's present-day technological infrastructure has not yet consumed all the energy on this planet, it is informally known as a Type 0 civilization. Kardashev's original definition for the threshold between a Type 0 and Type I civilization was one with an available power level of 4 x 10^12 Watts.

A Kardashev Type II civilization would harness all the power available from a single star. This figure is around 10^26 Watts, but as in the last case, it has likely been underestimated. Although one might think that a Dyson sphere, a solar panel encasing the entire sun, would be sufficient to harness all the sun's energy, to truly tap everything would require disassembling the sun and creating a lattice of mini-reactors that fuse together nuclei in the most efficient possible way. Although figures of thousands of years in the future are sometimes given for the transformation of humanity to a Type II civilization, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence might make this possible much sooner than previously expected.

A Kardashev Type III civilization would harness all the power in a single galaxy. This has been estimated at around 10^36 Watts, although Kardashev's original definition was 4 x 10^37 Watts. With the power of an entire galaxy at its disposal, a civilization would likely be able to come up with radical new power sources, perhaps extracting energy from the vacuum itself. With self-replicating space probes carrying the full set of capabilities necessary to kickstart a stellar civilization, galactic colonization could happen almost as quickly as the speed of light travels.

A Kardashev Type IV civilization would be one that consumes the power of an entire galactic supercluster. Kardashev Type V, of course, would be a civilization that occupies the entire universe.

All The Science is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Anissimov
By Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov is a dedicated All The Science contributor and brings his expertise in paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism to his articles. An avid blogger, Michael is deeply passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. His professional experience includes work with the Methuselah Foundation, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and Lifeboat Foundation, further showcasing his commitment to scientific advancement.
Discussion Comments
By anon253490 — On Mar 09, 2012

Since when is an earthquake a resource?

By anon74680 — On Apr 03, 2010

First of all, The Kardashev Scale is not just about harnessing large quantities of energy from any given source, it's what that civilization does with that energy.

A type one civilization controls the resources on that planet, such as earthquakes, weather, and so on. A type three civilization does not only harness the power of a single galaxy, but also must have the ability for galactic expansion. In order to deplete energy from an entire galaxy, that civilization would first have expand that empire. Listen to Michio Kaku, anyone can learn something from this man. Him, and from Neil Degrasse Tyson. Two very smart men.

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov is a dedicated All The Science contributor and brings his expertise in paleontology, physics, biology...
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