The collection of images included on EchoStar XVI may be easier
for any extraterrestrial intelligences to find than the plaques
and records flown on the Pioneer and Voyager missions.
(credit: Creative Time)


The Last Pictures: Contemporary pessimism and hope for the future (part 3)

by Larry Klaes
Monday, March 4, 2013

[Editor’s Note: Part 2 of this three-part essay appeared last week].

The fate of the EchoStar XVI Artifact

In the “Epilogue: Deep Futures” chapter of The Last Pictures, Paglen discusses the ultimate destiny for the communications satellite and its rather unique passenger. He wonders if EchoStar XVI and the Artifact will survive all sorts of potential mishaps way out there in space, including the day when our sun becomes a red giant that could consume Earth and its artificial ring of satellites. Paglen imagines EchoStar XVI surviving not only that phase of our star’s existence but also its subsequent white dwarf stage several billion years later.

Untouched by either human or alien appendages during all these eons, the artist’s vision for his creation eventually reaches into the very remote future:

In a hundred trillion years, star formation will begin to cease throughout the Universe. One by one, the points of light that dot the Cosmos will go black until they are all gone. By this time a wayward neutron star or pulsar will have come perilously close to what was once the sun, sending a great wave through spacetime, spinning EchoStar XVI and The Last Pictures off into never-ending darkness.

Paglen’s interpretation for his work is epic, ominous, poetic; even romantic in a sense, to be sure. But just how realistic is it? Of course, there is no way to know exactly what will happen to EchoStar XVI and the Artifact even in the next few centuries; however, we can make some educated guesses. Understanding what might happen to the satellite and its cargo will also help us to determine the fate of all the other spacecraft and their accompanying rocket stages and other debris drifting about our solar system and beyond.

Read more: The Space Review: The Last Pictures: Contemporary pessimism and hope for the future (part 3).

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