The real Earth stars

Michael Hall has been doing a lot of research on the appearance in the show of real Earth starfields. Here, I write an update to my earlier post.

Unfortunately, the results are a little too good. The sky above Earth is unique. You won’t find it anywhere else in the Galaxy. The sky at Alpha Centauri is of course the most similar, but it has a number of striking differences, changing several Zodiacal constellations, and adding an extra very bright star (our Sun) to turn Cassiopeia from a “W” to a “/W”

Hall’s efforts show the exact Earth sky appearing in several places:

  • The site of the Cylon civil war, making that planet be Jupiter. (This is also the site of Starbuck’s vision of where Earth is.)
  • Also the location of the Demetrius, where it is met by Leoben’s heavy raider, fleeing that war
  • Also the site of the rendezvous point between the fleet and the Demetrius
  • The spot where Adama waits for Roslin and the base star that attacked the Hub to return
  • The spot where the Tylium ship retreats to after they refuse to have Cylons upgrade their jump drive

In several of these scenes, we are given very obvious Earth star patterns. That is to say, we see the “big 3” of constellations that even non-astronomers readily recognize. The Big Dipper, the W of Cassiopeia, and Orion.

But more telling is we don’t see the Earth sky anywhere else. In particular, not above the ruined home of the 13th colony, which they named Earth. And not in any other places along the way including early episodes. Hall used a really cool new star map detection system which will take any photo of stars and tell you where it is in our sky, or if it isn’t in our sky at all.

On the one hand, if they producers know enough not to use the Earth sky for years, and suddenly they start using it, and even using it (showing Orion and Big Dipper) in a way that fans will be sure to notice, that doesn’t seem like an accident. It’s too odd to think that the graphics department, after carefully not using our sky, would just use it willy-nilly, and more to the point would not use it at the planet the 13th tribe named “Earth.”

On the other hand, they are using it in too many places. To see the Earth sky, notably things like the shield of Orion, you have to be within a short distance of Earth. Perhaps just a light year or more. But there’s nothing else around us in this zone. We’re it. In fact, except for Alpha Centauri and 3 other minor stars, there’s nothing around for 8 light years.

So this bugs me. On the one hand, the use of our sky is too strong to be an accident. On the other hand, now we are to believe that:

  • The Demetrius sat for days a short distance from Earth, scoped it out, and didn’t see it, even though they are hunting for a system with a ringed gas giant, and a life bearing planet with a large moon.
  • In fact, while there Starbuck discusses how they have already sent out 2 recon missions in the area, and not found anything, so she demands a third.
  • The whole fleet sat for weeks or more a short distance from Earth, and never noticed it.
  • Starbuck just “happened” to pick a rendezvous point to meet up with the fleet that is our solar system.
  • In spite of Adama ordering the fleet to go to G type stars to look for homes, when the Tylium ship comes to Sol, they don’t bother to scope it out. (I guess if they have already been her for weeks and not seen anything that could make some sense.)
  • Cavil just happens to pick Jupiter as the site of his ambush.
  • All of this isn’t too far from the Ionian Nebula supernova remnant. (The closest supernova remnant is Vela, about 800 light years away.)

In particular, when Cavil sets his ambush, he tells the others they will unbox D’Anna, and the closest place to do it is the nearest “accessible server” which is “half a dozen jumps away.” Now 6 Cylon jumps is pretty far, probably as much as 2,000 light years. It is possible he sprang the ambush at one of the intermediate points along the way, but there is no reason Jupiter would just happen to be one of the points along the way.

This adds another confusing point. First of all, how could Cavil “just happen” to pick Jupiter/Earth for the site of his ambush, of all the zillions of stars out there. Secondly, what does it mean that there is an accessible server in the Cylon resurrection network at Jupiter? This would mean the Cylons are no strangers to this region, in which case they would surely notice Earth too. After all, they are also looking for it.

And Earth should stick out. Our giant moon is a dead giveaway; we believe that to be rather unusual. And the spectrum of light from our planet, which includes lots of water and free oxygen, would be a beacon to anybody examining it with space telescopes even from light years away. Free oxygen, it is commonly accepted, is not something you will find unless something (life) is making it, because it is used up quickly in reactions. And real Earth, seen at the end of season 3, is a living planet, with free Oxygen, not a cinder.

So thus the dilemma. The use of the constellations seems deliberate. The Cylon battle site has to be Jupiter, it can be nowhere else. And yet the fleet, Demetrius, Cylon network builders and others have all hung around this system for long periods, and not noticed anything.

So of course one interpretation is a huge writing mistake, and a huge mistake in the graphics department in suddenly deciding after 4 years to start throwing the Earth sky in so many places with the notable exception of the 13th colony. Or perhaps the writers don’t realize just how readily they would see Earth if they hung around these areas with nice space telescopes, as they must have to do the stellar navigation they do.

This wouldn’t be the first production mistake like this. In the episode Torn, Gaeta pulls out a star map he supposedly got from Pegasus. But it’s an Earth star map, complete with Earth names on constellations and modern Earth catalog numbers on the stars. This map makes no sense, and strikes me as a lazy production mistake. We only see it upside-down.

But let’s dig for an alternate explanation. We’re told of a long, repeating history of war and exodus. This must have happened on real Earth as well. The Kobolians fled, or were kicked out. Perhaps they have programming relating to Earth, to block their return to it. Just as Starbuck got compulsions to find Earth (and visions of the real Jupiter) there may be other compulsions not to find it. There may be forces out there that want them to find real Earth, and others that want them not to.

This explains the 13th tribe heading in this direction, and finding a different planet quite nearby and naming it Earth. It might explain Athena being sent on a recon to Earth from the Demetrius and reporting no joy — 3 times. It might explain the presence of a Cylon network node there, but without Cylon conscious awareness of what the location is. We know at least that the 7 Cylons (including Athena) have compulsions programmed into their brains either by, or relating to the Final Five. And we know the Final Five have their own compulsions programmed into their brains, too.

But there is also the question of Cavil. He is Cylon model #1. Is he special? He seems to know things, without letting on. He makes deadpan pronouncements of major consequences if D’Anna sees the Five, or if inhibitors are removed from Centurions. And he somehow picks Jupiter as the site for his ambush, an impossible coincidence.

So something isn’t adding up. Is it a strange mistake. Or a hint of a major mystery?

The Supernova

Another thing that’s not adding up is the Ionian Nebula. This is a supernova remnant — it has to be, because nobody will immediately pull from their minds a plain old nova seen 4,000 years ago. But it must be close to both the 13th colony and real Earth. When they get there, Roslin starts jumping the fleet along the course they went, and Starbuck goes crazy, saying it’s the wrong way. So real Earth is a bit of a backtrack (or at least sideways track) from that remnant.

There are only a few supernova remnants close to us. One of the closest is the Vela nebula, which new research puts only 800 light years away. It exploded, it is suggested, around 11,000 years ago. (I am unsure if that is the date of explosion or the date of light arrival on Earth.) Since the Ionian supernova is dated to 17,000 years ago as seen from the colonies, that fits well with a chronology placing this story 5,000 years in our future.

The Ionian/Vela supernova would have been a big event in Kobol/Algae Planet society, because they would have known in advance it was going to happen. They would have jumped beyond its light cone, meaning that when they got to their new planet, they would know the supernova wave was following them, and could have put out lawn chairs to watch it explode. The legends persist so much that Gaeta still knows about it.

But 800 light years is still a long distance for Starbuck to trek on her exploration, and for the fleet to follow. We are told colonial jumps are in the range of 30 light years before they hit their red-line, so that’s over 25 jumps. However, it does not match very well with being 6 Cylon jumps, as Cylon jumps are supposed to be able to go 10 times further. (Though to contradict that, Cylon upgrades to fleet drives will only give them a 3x improvement. And we don’t know where the Cylons start.)

Hall makes the case that in fact they did a giant backtrack. He thinks they trekked 13,000 light years out to the edge of the galaxy to find the Ionian nebula, and Starbuck and the fleet independently came back that distance or more to get to Earth. I don’t think that’s credible for a lot of reasons. One is that I can’t see a waste processing ship designed for a small set of close colonies ever having the fuel capacity to do that. Nor could they pick a rendezvous point 13,000 light years away so accurately that the Cylon ship and Demetrius jump right into the middle of the fleet.

The Journey

We must also step back and realize that the journey here is probably not a straight line. If the forces guiding them to these planets wanted to, they could have just said, “Here are the coordinates for Earth.” Instead we get a very, very convoluted trek. I hope we see a reason for this trek.

  1. Head out randomly into space. Somehow find Kobol
  2. On Kobol, find a star map that tells you to head in the direction of M8, the Lagoon Nebula.
  3. Along the way find a probe, and a possible lion’s head nebula
  4. Be diverted for 18 months on a hidden planet called New Caprica
  5. Be diverted back to an Algae planet. There, the chosen one is supposed to be in the activated temple, but it doesn’t seem to happen. However, see a symbol that tells you to go in the direction of the Ionian supernova remnant.
  6. Along the way, refuel at a planet where Starbuck is taken in an unknown fashion.
  7. Reach the Ionian nebula. Suffer a power failure. Awaken the final five, just slightly. Return a Starbuck, in a brand new viper. Starbuck has compulsions that point her towards Earth. She finds it but doesn’t see it. Raiders encountered freshly awakened final five, and break off, triggering Cylon internal conflict.
  8. Cylons have civil war, near Earth.
  9. Have the final five realize the viper is special. The viper has a locater pointing at the 13th colony.
  10. On the 13th colony, give the final five more memories, but learn no new clues for true Earth.

This journey does not have to be a straight line, but I hope we see a reason why this is the journey that makes sense. Something to explain why not just get coordinates. A reason why this journey brings about other events like the alliance with the Cylons, or their war. Events either to repeat the cycle, or to break it.