Megastructure

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The Great Wall of China is a megastructure. This picture was taken near Beijing in winter.

A megastructure is a very large manmade object, though the limits of precisely how large this is vary considerably. Some apply the term to any especially large or tall building.[1][2] Some sources define a megastructure as an enormous self-supporting artificial construct. Other criteria such as rigidity or contiguousness are sometimes also applied,[citation needed] so large clusters of associated smaller structures may or may not qualify. The products of megascale engineering or astroengineering are megastructures.

Most megastructure designs could not be constructed with today's level of industrial technology. This makes their design examples of speculative (or exploratory) engineering. Those that could be constructed easily qualify as megaprojects.

Megastructures are also an architectural concept popularized in the 1960s where a city could be encased in a single building, or a relatively small number of buildings interconnected. Such arcology concepts are popular in science fiction. Megastructures often play a part in the plot or setting of science fiction movies and books, such as Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke.

In 1968, Ralph Wilcoxon defined a megastructure as any structural framework into which rooms, houses, or other small buildings can later be installed, uninstalled, and replaced; and which is capable of "unlimited" extension. Many architects have designed such megastructures. Some of the more notable such architects and architectural groups include the Metabolist Movement, Archigram, Cedric Price, Frei Otto, Constant Nieuwenhuys, Yona Friedman, and Buckminster Fuller.[3] This type of framework allows the structure to adapt to the individual wishes of its residents, even as those wishes change with time.[4]

Other sources define a megastructure as "any development in which residential densities are able to support services and facilities essential for the development to become a self-contained community".[5]

Existing[edit]

There are structures that may be considered megastructures, such as

  • The Great Wall of China is a human-built megastructure, a few meters wide and 3,947 miles (6,352 km) in length, about 4,975,318 square yards (4,160,000 m2).[6]

Networks of roads or railways, and collections of buildings (cities and associated suburbs), are usually not considered megastructures, despite frequently qualifying based on size. However, an ecumenopolis might qualify.

Proposed[edit]

  • Atlantropa, a hydroelectric dam to be built across the Strait of Gibraltar, and the lowering of the surface of the Mediterranean Sea by as much as 200 metres.
  • Trans-Global Highway, highway systems that would link all six of the inhabited continents on Earth. The highway would network new and existing bridges and tunnels, improving not only ground transportation but also potentially offering a conduit for utility pipelines.

Theoretical[edit]

Stellar scale[edit]

A cut-away diagram of an idealized Dyson shell—a variant on Dyson's original concept—1 AU in radius.

Most stellar scale Megastructure proposals are designs to make use of the energy from a sun-like star while possibly still providing gravity or other attributes that would make it attractive for an advanced civilization.

  • The Alderson disk is a theoretical structure in the shape of a disk, where the outer radius is equivalent to the orbit of Mars or Jupiter and the thickness is several thousand miles. A civilization could live on either side, held by the gravity of the disk and still receive sunlight from a star bobbing up and down in the middle of the disk.
  • A Dyson sphere (also known as a Dyson Shell) refers to a structure or mass of orbiting objects that completely surrounds a star to make full use of its solar energy.
  • A Matrioshka brain is a collection of multiple Concentric Dyson Spheres which make use of different wavelengths of light.
  • A Stellar engine either uses the temperature difference between a star and interstellar space to extract energy or serves as a Shkadov thruster.
  • A Shkadov thruster accelerates an entire star through space by selectively reflecting or absorbing light on one side of it.
  • Topopolis (also known as Cosmic Spaghetti) is a large tube that rotates to provide artificial gravity.

Planetary scale[edit]

  • An Orbital is a space habitat similar to but much smaller than a Niven Ring. Instead of being centered around a star, it is orbiting a star, thus its diameter is typically on the order of magnitude of a planet. By giving a tilt to its orbit, there's a convenient day and night experience on its surface.
  • Globus Cassus is a hypothetical proposed project for the transformation of Planet Earth into a much bigger, hollow, artificial world with the ecosphere on its inner surface. This model serves as a tool to understand the World's real functioning processes.
  • Cloud nine is Buckminster Fuller's proposal for a tensegrity sphere of size a mile in radius which would be large enough so that it would float in the sky if heated by only one degree above ambient temperature, creating habitats for mini cities of thousands of people in each "Cloud Nine".

Orbital structures[edit]

  • Orbital ring is an enclosed loop slightly larger than the circumference of the Earth so that it can maintain low earth orbit.
  • The Bernal sphere is a proposal for a space colony with a maximum diameter of 1.6 kilometers.
  • The Stanford torus is a different design with a diameter just under 1.7 kilometers.
  • The O'Neill cylinder is yet another space colony proposal.

Trans-orbital structures[edit]

One concept for the space elevator has it tethered to a mobile seagoing platform.
  • A Skyhook is a very tall structure that hangs down from orbit.
  • A Space elevator is a skyhook that is fixed to the ground
  • A Space fountain is held up by the momentum of masses which are shot up to the top at high speeds from the ground.
  • A Lofstrom loop ("Launch loop") is a 2000 km long iron loop that projects up in an arc to 80 km that is ridden by maglev cars while achieving orbital velocity.
  • StarTram Generation 2 is a maglev launch track extending from the ground to above 96% of the atmosphere's mass, supported by magnetic levitation.
  • Rotovator proposals call for a large tether to transfer momentum between spacecraft in transit.

Fictional[edit]

Stellar scale[edit]

  • The Dyson shell (including its variation, the ringworld) has appeared in many works of fiction, including the Star Trek universe.
  • Larry Niven's series of novels beginning with Ringworld centered around, and originated the concept of a ringworld, or Niven ring. A ringworld is an artificial ring with a radius roughly equal to the radius of the Earth's orbit (1 AU). A star is present in the center and the ring spins to create g-forces, with inner walls to hold in the atmosphere. The structure is unstable, and required the author to include workarounds in subsequent novels set on it.
  • In the manga Blame! the Megastructure is a vast and chaotic complex of metal, concrete, stone, etc., that covers the Earth and assimilates the Moon, and eventually expands to encompass a volume greater than the orbit of Jupiter.
  • In White Light by William Barton and Michael Capobianco, a Topopolis is presented as taking over the entire universe.
  • In the Heechee books by Frederik Pohl the race of pure energy beings called The Foe have constructed the Kugelblitz, a black hole made of energy and not matter.
  • In the Xeelee series of books by Stephen Baxter, the eponymous alien race constructed the Ring, a megastructure made of cosmic strings, spanning over 10 million light years.
  • In Freelancer, The Dom'Kavosh's Dyson shell that is inhabited by a drone race created by the Dom'Kavosh, Nomads. This is reached via a hyper gate, created by the same creators as the Dyson sphere.
  • The Saga of Cuckoo series novel Wall Around a Star mentions a proposal to build a super dyson sphere, completely enclosing the Galactic Center.
  • The title of the novel Helix by Eric Brown directly references a stellar-scale helical megastructure. Different types of environments and habitats are interspersed along the structure, while their varying distance from the central star has an impact on the climate.

Planetary scale[edit]

Delta Halo, one of the seven remaining Halos from the fictional Halo universe
  • Several structures from the fictional Halo universe:
    • The original twelve Halos, seen in Halo: Cryptum, were 30,000 kilometers in diameter; a separate array of six Halos are 10,000 kilometers in diameter, with one of the original twelve later being reduced to this size in Halo: Primordium.
    • The Ark is a 127,530km diameter structure from which the Halo Array can be activated and capable of building 10,000km Halos. The "greater" Ark, seen in Cryptum and Primordium, is capable of producing 30,000km Halos.
    • Onyx is an artificial planet made entirely out of Forerunner Sentinels. At its core is a "shield world", contained within slipstream space, that is approximately one astronomical unit in diameter. The much smaller Shield World 0459, (approximately 1,400 km in diameter), is the setting for the latter half of Halo Wars. A third shield world, Requiem, is the primary setting for Halo 4. Requiem is an artificial hollow planet encased in a kind of Dyson Sphere.
    • High Charity, the Covenant's mobile planetoid station
  • Death Star from Star Wars
  • Buster Machine III from Gunbuster.
  • Culture Orbital
  • Trantor, the capital of an interstellar empire in Isaac Asimov's Foundation series, is a planet entirely covered in one huge metal clad building, with only one small green space: the Emperor's palace grounds.
  • Coruscant, capital city in the Star Wars universe, entirely covers its host planet. It serves as capital of first the Republic and then later the First Galactic Empire.
  • The Galaxy Gun from the Star Wars universe, a large space station designed to destroy entire planets from across the galaxy could be considered a megastructure because its size is more than seven kilometers long.
  • The Centerpoint Station, from the Star Wars universe, a 350 km spherical space station at the Lagrangian point between the planets Talus and Tralus in the Corellia system. It was a gigantic and ancient hyperspace tractor beam with which an ancient race, known as Celestials, created the Corellia star system. With the help of the tractor beam whole planets could be moved through hyperspace and arranged into their actual orbits acound the central star. On the other hand the same technology could be used as weapon to destroy even stars. On the inside of the main sphere a huge living space called Hollowtown was home to many people in similar fashion as on the inside of a dyson sphere.
  • The Ori Supergate seen in a number of episodes of Stargate SG1 could be classed as a megastructure
  • In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, Earth, as well as other planets, were artificial megastructures. Earth was intended to function as a gigantic computer, and was built by a race of beings who made their living by manufacturing other planets.
  • The Star Forge from Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
  • Mata-Nui in the BIONICLE franchise is classifiable as a megastructre. In the story he is a massive robot as tall as a planet, and inside his body, every inhabitant of the BIONICLE Universe (Matoran, Toa, etc.) all live, unaware that they live inside a massive, space-traveling entity.
  • In the Robotech Sentinels novels, Haydon IV is an artificially constructed cyber-planet with android citizens.
  • In the Invader Zim episode "Planet Jackers", two aliens surround the Earth with a fake sky in order to throw it into their sun.
  • Nightmare's fortress from Kirby: Right Back at Ya! can be classified as a megastructure because it's the size of a small planet.
  • In several works, Arthur C. Clarke writes about a colossal hollow tube, first described in "Rendezvous with Rama" (1973), and inhabited by different races.
  • The Citadel in the Mass Effect universe is an enormous space station constructed by an ancient race of machines called the Reapers millions of years before the games in the series. At the time of Mass Effect 2, its population is 13.2 million.
  • In the game Airforce Delta Strike a large Space Elevator called the Chiron Lift is used to send supplies out into outer space.
  • In the Warhammer 40,000 series, the Imperial Palace (site of the Golden Throne wherein the Emperor of Mankind is kept alive indefinitely) could be considered a megastructure. The palace is a complex of continent-wide structures with the Golden Throne being located in an area stretching across the whole of the Himalayan mountains.
  • In the film Elysium, a luxury space station (a Stanford Torus) called Elysium houses the wealthy population of the human species.

Megascale structures[edit]

Structures that might not be classified as "Megastructures" because they do not meet the requirements, but are indeed "Mega" sized structures/constructions.

Stellar scale[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]