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What Is an Alien Megastructure, Anyway?

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“Alien megastructure” is one of those cool-sounding phrases that inspires thoughts of far-off worlds populated with little green creatures. But what exactly is it?

David Kipping, a professor of astronomy at Columbia University, is here to explain. In a new video, Kipping explains some of the mystery surrounding KIC 8462852, also known as Tabby’s Star. The celestial body has been the subject of intrigue due to its odd behavior—its highly erratic flickering has thus far stumped scientists. More recently, it made headlines after researchers reported that its behavior was actually even weirder than first suspected.


We don’t have much yet in the way of a solid explanation, but some astronomers have posited that the odd behavior of Tabby’s Star miiiiight be evidence of an alien megastructure. As Kipping explains, one popular theory defines an alien megastructure as something built by advanced, alien civilizations to harvest the energy produced by their parent stars. One popular concept for this is what’s called a Dyson sphere—a massive, solid shell that surrounds the star. (Others suggest alien megastructures have been built as a “means of communicating one’s presence across the cosmos.”)

Kipping isn’t convinced—and emphasizes that it really, probably isn’t what’s going on with Tabby’s Star—but he doesn’t completely discount it, either. His video, however, is a good primer while we wait to find out whether the truth really is out there.