Kardashev scale

This article is about a measuring method. For the album by Greydon Square, see The Kardashev Scale (album).

The Kardashev scale is a method of measuring a civilization's level of technological advancement, based on the amount of energy a civilization is able to use for communication.[1] The scale has three designated categories:

The scale is hypothetical, and regards energy consumption on a cosmic scale. It was proposed in 1964 by the Soviet astronomer Nikolai Kardashev. 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.


In 1964, Kardashev defined three levels of civilizations, based on the order of magnitude of power available to them:

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 7x1017 watts) , which is quite higher than the amount that presently attained on earth, with energy consumption at ≈4×1019 erg/sec (4 × 1012 watts)."[1] 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."[3]
Type II
"A 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."[1] 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)."[3]
Type III
"A civilization in possession of energy on the scale of its own galaxy, with energy consumption at ≈4×1044 erg/sec."[1] 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)."[3]
Three schematic representations: Earth, Solar System and Milky Way
Energy consumption estimated in three types of civilizations defined by Kardashev scale

Current status of human civilization

Total World, Annual Primary Energy Consumption.
Color photo. Man sitting wearing a suit and smiling.
According to the astronomer Carl Sagan, humanity through a phase of technical adolescence, "typical of a civilization about to integrate the type I Kardashev scale.
Further information: World energy consumption

Michio Kaku suggested that humans may attain Type I status in 100–200 years, Type II status in a few thousand years, and Type III status in 100,000 to a million years.[4]

Carl Sagan suggested defining intermediate values (not considered in Kardashev's original scale) by interpolating and extrapolating the values given above for types I (1016 W), II (1026 W) and III (1036 W), which would produce the formula


where value K is a civilization's Kardashev rating and P is the power it uses, in watts. Using this extrapolation, a "Type 0" civilization, not defined by Kardashev, would control about 1 MW of power, and humanity's civilization type as of 1973 was about 0.7 (apparently using 10 terawatt (TW) as the value for 1970s humanity).[5]

In 2012, total world energy consumption was 553 exajoules (553×1018 J=153,611 TWh),[6] equivalent to an average power consumption of 17.54 TW (or 0.724 on Sagan's Kardashev scale).

Observational evidence

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 local Universe".[7] On October 14, 2015, the realization of a strange pattern of light surrounding star KIC 8462852 has raised speculation that a Dyson Sphere (Type II civilization) may have been discovered.[8][9][10][11][12]

In 2016, Paul Glister, author of the Centauri Dreams website, described a signal apparently from the star HD 164595 as requiring the power of a Type I or Type II civilization, if produced by extraterrestrial lifeform.[13] However, in August 2016 it was discovered that the signal's origin was most likely a military satellite orbiting the Earth.[14]

Energy development

Type I civilization methods

Figure of a Dyson swarm surrounding a star

Type II civilization methods

Type III civilization methods

Civilization implications

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 speculation[24] 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 life-forms 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 in reality thanks to evolution or the application 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.

Extensions to the original scale

Many extensions and modifications to the Kardashev scale have been proposed.

According to this scale, humans, having wide expertise in various branches of Chemistry and Biology have passed the stage of Type III- minus. Signs of type IV-minus (that have had practical and widespread applications) have been seen in areas like nuclear physics, semiconductors and genetic engineering.


It has been argued that, because we cannot understand advanced civilizations, we cannot predict their behavior. Thus, the Kardashev scale may not be relevant or useful for classifying extraterrestrial civilizations. This central argument is found in the book Evolving the Alien: The Science of Extraterrestrial Life.[29]

It has also been argued from the standpoint of efficiency that the Kardashev scale requires further development. Should a civilization be able to harness energy of whatever arbitrarily large scale, it does not mean that it has likewise developed a commensurate ability to use that power with efficiency.

Posit a star system wherein a star-shrouding cloud of pebbles plays host to photosynthetic algae or bacteria that almost completely surround a star. Such a 'civilization' may have the means to acquire, and have access to, far more energy than that is available on Earth either proportionately or in absolute terms. Nonetheless we would not call such a civilization 'technologically more advanced' in virtue of its resource advantage alone even if it were to completely absorb all the energy from said star.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 Kardashev, Nikolai (1964). "Transmission of Information by Extraterrestrial Civilizations". Soviet Astronomy. 8: 217. Bibcode:1964SvA.....8..217K.
  2. 1 2 Kardashev, Nikolai. "On the Inevitability and the Possible Structures of Supercivilizations", The search for extraterrestrial life: Recent developments; Proceedings of the Symposium, Boston, MA, June 18–21, 1984 (A86-38126 17-88). Dordrecht, D. Reidel Publishing Co., 1985, p. 497–504.
  3. 1 2 3 Lemarchand, Guillermo A. "Detectability of Extraterrestrial Technological Activities". Coseti.
  4. Kaku, Michio (2010). "The Physics of Interstellar Travel: To one day, reach the stars.". Retrieved 2010-08-29.
  5. 1 2 Sagan, Carl (October 2000) [1973]. Jerome Agel, ed. Cosmic Connection: An Extraterrestrial Perspective. Freeman J. Dyson, David Morrison. Cambridge Press. ISBN 0-521-78303-8. Retrieved 2008-01-01. I would suggest Type 1.0 as a civilization using 1016 watts for interstellar communication; Type 1.1, 1017 watts; Type 1.2, 1018 watts, and so on. Our present civilization would be classed as something like Type 0.7.
  6. "Total Primary Energy Consumption 2008-2012" (cfm). Statistical Review of World Energy 2008-2012. U.S. Energy Information Administration.
  7. Garrett, Michael (2015). "The application of the Mid-IR radio correlation to the $\hat{G}$ sample and the search for advanced extraterrestrial civilizations". Astronomy & Astrophysics. 581: L5. arXiv:1508.02624Freely accessible. doi:10.1051/0004-6361/201526687.
  8. Andersen, Ross (2015-10-13). "The Most Mysterious Star in Our Galaxy". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2015-10-15.
  9. Kaplan, Sarah (2015-10-15). "The strange star that has serious scientists talking about an alien megastructure". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2015-10-15.
  10. Aron, Jacob (2015-09-18). "Citizen scientists catch cloud of comets orbiting distant star". New Scientist. Retrieved 2015-10-15.
  11. Plait, Phil (2015-10-14). "Did Astronomers Find Evidence of an Alien Civilization? (Probably Not. But Still Cool.)". Slate. ISSN 1091-2339. Retrieved 2015-10-15.
  12. Williams, Lee (2015-10-14). "Astronomers may have found alien 'megastructures' orbiting star near the Milky Way". The Independent. Retrieved 2015-10-15.
  13. "An Interesting SETI Candidate in Hercules". 2016-08-27. Retrieved 2016-08-29.
  14. "Alien signal detected by Russian astrophysicists turns out to be terrestrial disturbance". tass.com. St. Petersburg, Russia: TASS. 2016-08-30. Retrieved 2016-09-02.
  15. Souers, P. C. (1986). Hydrogen properties for fusion energy. University of California Press. p. 4. ISBN 978-0-520-05500-1.
  16. Borowski, Steve K. (1987-07-29). "Comparison of Fusion/Anti-matter Propulsion Systems for Interplanetary Travel" (PDF). Technical Memorandum 107030. San Diego, California, USA: National Aeronautics and Space Administration. pp. 1–3. Retrieved 2008-01-28.
  17. By the mass-energy equivalence formula E = mc². See anti-matter as a fuel source for the energy comparisons.
  18. Than, Ker (August 10, 2011). "Antimatter Found Orbiting Earth—A First". National Geographic News.
  19. Adriani; Barbarino; Bazilevskaya; Bellotti; Boezio; Bogomolov; Bongi; Bonvicini; Borisov (2011). "The discovery of geomagnetically trapped cosmic ray antiprotons". The Astrophysical Journal. 736 (29): L1. arXiv:1107.4882Freely accessible. Bibcode:2011ApJ...736L...1H. doi:10.1088/2041-8205/736/1/L1.
  20. Palmer, Jason (2011-01-11). "Antimatter caught streaming from thunderstorms on Earth". BBC News. Retrieved 2015-12-29.
  21. Dyson, Freeman J. (1966). Marshak, R. E., ed. "The Search for Extraterrestrial Technology". Perspectives in Modern Physics. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
  22. Newman, Phil (2001-10-22). "New Energy Source "Wrings" Power from Black Hole Spin". NASA. Archived from the original on 2008-02-09. Retrieved 2008-02-19.
  23. Schutz, Bernard F. (1985). A First Course in General Relativity. New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 304, 305. ISBN 0-521-27703-5.
  24. Dyson, Freeman (1960-06-03). "Search for Artificial Stellar Sources of Infrared Radiation". Science. New York: W. A. Benjamin, Inc. 131 (3414): 1667–1668. Bibcode:1960Sci...131.1667D. doi:10.1126/science.131.3414.1667. PMID 17780673. Retrieved 2008-01-30.
  25. Galántai, Zoltán (September 7, 2003). "Long Futures and Type Ⅳ Civilizations" (PDF). Retrieved 2014-11-03.
  26. Kaku, Michio (2005). Parallel Worlds: The Science of Alternative Universes and Our Future in the Cosmos. New York: Doubleday. p. 317. ISBN 0-7139-9728-1.
  27. 1 2 Zubrin, Robert (1999). Entering Space: Creating a Spacefaring Civilization. ISBN 978-1585420360.
  28. Barrow, John (1998). Impossibility: Limits of Science and the Science of Limits. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 133. ISBN 978-0198518907.
  29. Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart: Evolving the Alien: The Science of Extraterrestrial Life, Ebury Press, 2002, ISBN 0-09-187927-2

Further reading

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