Do solar panels produce electricity outside a solar system?


If you took a group of solar panels outside the solar system into interstellar space, would they produce power? Would they get power from other stars?

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Theoretically yes, though the amount of power they would generate far from a star would be too small to be useful. This is why the Voyager crafts are not solar-powered – they are already too distant to collect enough power from the Sun to operate.

As long as they are in a decent range of a star that’s bright enough, they’ll work. There’s a sweet spot for each star: too close and the panels would burn up, too far and the light intensity will be too low (like our moon, or the evening sun). Any star like our sun will do.

“Solar” panels are perhaps more accurately described as “light” panels – they can generate electricity from any sufficiently bright light source (I’m sure there are some restrictions on exactly what wavelengths they can generate from, but that’s a different matter). The point is, you can use a flashlight, or a fire, or any other such source of light to generate electricity.

So you could definitely generate power from solar panels around another star, or even probably the accretion disk of a black hole (gas and other matter swirling around it that gets heated enough to glow brightly).

The issue with trying to use solar panels in interstellar space, then, wouldn’t be with the origin or type of light. Rather, the problem would be that, because you’re so far away from any significant light source, your solar panel is only getting hit by a pretty trivial amount of light and thus will only produce a pretty trivial amount of electricity. It would be like trying to power a house with rooftop solar by shining one of those tiny keychain flashlights on it.

Solar panels are just backwards LEDs. As long as light in the correct wavelength(s) hits the cells, they will produce electricity.

The problem with putting them so far away is that the amount energy you can theoretically gather goes down exponentially the further away you’re from the sun.