What Is an Alien Megastructure, Anyway?

“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.


Sophie is a former news editor at Gizmodo.

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Arai-the fly on the wall

In understanding the possibilities of alien megastructures, perhaps it would be better if we start off from understanding the term alien lifeforms themselves.

And to start doing that, it might be reasonable to start understand the lifeforms we already have on earth and our relation to each other.

Let’s start with a small lifeform we have on earth, for example bees. In a way, bees have their own technology and civilization. And in a way of their own, they might be so bold as to call themselves an intelligent race. That’s from a bee’s POV. From their POV, they might recognize the other insects as fellow animals. But what of a lifeform greater than their understanding?

Can a bee differ a human, an elephant, a car, a statue? With their limit of perception and understanding, they most likely not capable of such.

Now let’s put the same parable to our race. With our limit of perception and understanding, can we able to perceive a much greater alien lifeform that managed to build a galaxy spanned megastructures? Do we even see the megastructures even if we knock our head into one?