Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter
Megastructures are large building projects that encompass 1,000 kilometers(1 megameter) in length, height, or diameter. That definition has been altered over time to include theoretical projects as well as construction projects that can be expanded without limit or are adaptable over time. The name has spawned a television program of the same name to help people who are interested understand the engineering, staffing, and maintenance issues facing a large structure.
Some ancient civilizations undertook construction projects that are considered to be megastructures even by modern standards. The Great Wall of China covers 6,352 km. Today it would be a project that would destroy any country’s economy and serves no practical purpose, but when it was build it protected the Chinese people from invasion for centuries. Thousands of years ago the need for a renewable food source drove the tribesmen around the Rice Terraces Of Philippine Cordilleras to carve farmland out of the mountains with hand tools. Man has always altered his environment out of necessity.
Many people consider the skyscrapers and monstrously large ships plying our oceans to also be megastructures. The television program concentrates on just such projects. The show has featured projects like the Channel Tunnel, the U.S.S Ronald Reagan, and the Palm Islands in Dubai. The program focuses on how engineering obstacles are overcome, staffing, and maintenance issues that arise in order to keep these structures viable.
Many of the theoretical megastructures focus on how to encase and/or move an entire star so that a civilization can make use of its energy and live close to it. In several instances, the structure is meant to serve as a living surface that harnesses the energy of the encompassed star to heat, cool, and power the civilization that would live in and on it. Conceptually, an entire race could move anywhere in the universe without having to worry about an energy source to grow its food and meet all of its needs.
Megastructures range from the ancient to the far-fetched that could never be undertaken with our current technology.
We’ve also recorded an entire episode of Astronomy Cast all about Orbital Megastructures. Listen here, Episode 167: Future Civilizations.