Kepler Space Telescope Detects an Alien Megastructure 1500 Light Years Away?

If you read nothing else between now and January, a recent article in The Atlantic Monthly perhaps should be it. (And then, when you start reading again in January, perhaps you should Google immediately the article’s subject for the rest of the story.)

The article is about megastructures, and it certainly puts life in perspective.

The Kepler Space Telescope may have detected megastructures (possibly large solar arrays) orbiting a star 1500 light years away. The star is designated KIC 8462852. So much light from it is being blocked by transit objects, and apparently not by round ones, as you would expect if they were planets, that astronomers think it’s possible that Kepler has stumbled on some very large civilizational artifacts. A radio telescope will be pointed at the star in January, according to The Atlantic, “to see if it emits radio waves at frequencies associated with technological activity.”

And this is in The Washington Post this morning: “[Megastructures] would probably comprise a chain of smaller satellites or space habitats, something that would block its star’s light as weirdly and irregularly as the light of KIC 8462852 has been blocked. That’s why researchers who are interested in finding alien life are so excited about the finding.”

But even if there are no megastructures orbiting KIC 8462852, I like the thought of the word “megastructure” perhaps entering the pop cultural vocabulary over the next several months. It has a nice ring. Megastructure. Yum. It sings off the lips and tongue.

So, in January, after astronomers point a radio telescope in the direction of KIC 8462852, if they don’t pick up the alien equivalent of I Love Lucy reruns, it will be a disappointment, but this oddball star will still have opened up a space for wonder over the next few months, and introduced a cool word into the collective psyche.

Another word I like is hyperobject. It comes from literary criticism. If something alien is found, expect some academics to start theorizing the “megastructure as hyperobject.”

While waiting for more word on this (and more words to be coined surrounding this), the YouTube below is a bit fanciful, but informative.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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4 Responses to Kepler Space Telescope Detects an Alien Megastructure 1500 Light Years Away?

  1. I like the words megastructure and hyperobject too. They speak of so much that might be possible and even if what we suspect to be artifice is found to be natural, the possibility that we will find such objects one day is inspiring. As is the hope that, one day, we might build them ourselves.

  2. Susanne says:

    I like the word prediction versus trying to predict how the megastructure came into existence. Oh, God! What a thought!

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      Susanne:

      I’m thinking of Sartre in his little book titled, “Literature and Existentialism,” specifically the first chapter, in which (if I recall correctly) he likens writing to seeing through a window, not attending to a window’s subtle errors and nuances of manufacture, its water-spots, etc.

      But of course this is formalism in art, to actually notice these things. Sartre thought literature should be more didactic, so he was essentially attacking the notion of art for art’s sake. But it’s possible–even desirable–to turn the eye, ear, and tongue on the sheer deliciousness and contingencies of a word’s form (as opposed to its meaning or use). I’m not trying to be anti-conceptual per se, only taking notice of the reverberation between form and meaning that a word like “megastructure” has, and the way it firecrackers to my ear pleasantly as sound and language.

      It’s not a zero-sum game.

      • Susanne says:

        Definitely desirable to turn the ear, eyes, and tongue to a word’s form. When you speak the word “megastructure” it sits heavy in the mouth and it is a slow moving word but that yummy rolling r ending makes it all worthwhile.

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