Battlestar Galactica was a massive show on pretty much every scale, but one thing that the show never really delved into was the history of the Twelve Colonies.
Luckily, thanks to the folks at io9, you can find out for yourself (and even hang it on your wall!)
The website worked in collaboration with writer Jane Espenson and science adviser Kevin Grazier, both of which worked on the actual show, to design a rather epic star chart detailing everything you could want to know about the Twelve Colonies. And even better, they even interviewed them and got a Battlestar Galactica-themed history lesson.
Check the interview and the full chart below.
Not only is this map a thing of great beauty, but it’s totally official — Grazier was science advisor for Battlestar Galactica from the very beginning, and helped to define a lot of the show’s concepts. And Espenson, as the original showrunner for the prequel series Caprica, had to do a lot of thinking about exactly how the Twelve Colonies were laid out. This info comes straight from the creators — and from the showrunner’s bible for BSG and Caprica. And Grazier, who works at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, verifies that the info in this map is “scientifically plausible.”
We’re excited to present an exclusive high-res image of the map, which sells for $14.95 from Quantum Mechanix and measures 27″ by 39″. This is one item that should definitely be on your Dradis.
We asked Espenson and Grazier some questions about the map, and they ended up telling us a lot more about the science and backstory of Battlestar Galactica:
I didn’t realize there were four different stars in the Cyrannus star system. I had always wondered if there were just 12 habitable planets clustered around a single sun. Where did the idea of four different stars come from? Was this in the show bible someplace? I’m especially curious about Leonis, the “heart of the colonies,” which I don’t think we ever heard about. Also, Scorpion, the “playground of the colonies.” Is that the colonial version of Risa?
Jane: Even back before Caprica the show existed, I believe Kevin and I had talked a bit about the configuration of the colonies. All the work on that is his. I instinctively loved the idea of a star cluster. The idea of 12 habitable planets all orbiting one star just seemed unworkable. And crowded. This group of stars makes so much sense. Kevin was at work on the configuration of stars and planets long before we shot a single frame.
Kevin: Indeed, the instant Ron hired me on BSG, I was so excited, I went home, read the series bible and the first two scripts for “33” and “Water”, then proceeded to hack out a document on the astronomy of the Twelve Colonies – how might we get twelve habitable planets in one star system (which is stated in Ron’s series bible).
I suggested that either the Twelve Colonies are spread across a couple neighboring stars at the edge of a star cluster, OR that they were orbiting a multiple star system like Castor (six stars in three binary pairs), or a summer target well-known to amateur astronomers, Epsilon Lyrae (the famous double-double star). The latter became our touchstone for the star system that supported the planets of the Twelve Colonies.
Later, when I was working on the chapter about planets for the book Science of Battlestar Galactica, I revisited that document – expanding upon it for the book. While I was writing that chapter I had a conversation with Jane and we agreed that it might serve the dramatic needs of Caprica if we laid out the Colonies explicitly before they got too deep into writing.
So the second to last, more speculative, version of that document became part of a chapter for the book; I shipped the final version—with more concrete recommendations—to Jane for her to use to lay out the Twelve Colonies.
Then I had author Bob Harris, friend of the show, write a document for the use of the writers. It’s since been augmented with illustrations and such, and it’s been available as an adorable little DK travel guide called “Beyond Caprica”.
The map drew from this document. The information in it is what I’d call quasi-canon. We relied on it when writing the scripts, but it wasn’t taken as prescriptive. If something great in a script contradicted the document, we didn’t sweat it. But it was incredibly useful to have as background “world-building” material. It helped make the worlds feel real to us.
Bob made an effort to make the worlds make sense culturally and historically. As to whether parallels exist between, say, Scorpion and Risa, I can only say that I can certainly imagine a fleet-dweller having that same thought.
If the four stars are less than 0.16 light years apart, wouldn’t you see more than one sun in the sky on Caprica and other worlds? Would the days be longer? Or would this just be a few extremely bright stars at night?
Kevin: One of Jane’s first concerns was whether or not the stars were so close that lighting in night scenes would be an issue. I said that if the stars were all large K-type stars (smaller than our own, but large enough to support planets with intelligent life), and they were separated by the distances of the Epsilon Lyrae system, then there wouldn’t be too much concern. If they were going to shoot a night shot, then the lights that were required to light the shot were far brighter than any of the other stars, were they in the sky.
Jane: I do recall asking him if we needed to worry about lighting Caprica as if there were two suns and receiving the good news that we didn’t. We did keep the days of the week and the clock the same on Caprica, which may be an error, but one we made on purpose – some changes felt like they’d appear distracting or distancing and other like they’d contradict what we’d seen in the fleet – the standard clocks seen in the episode ’33’ for example.
Also, it seems like there’s a lot of info here about planets like Libran and Canceron that I don’t remember hearing much about on screen. Were these planets we were going to learn more about if Caprica had gotten a second or third season? Was there a show bible that included information on those worlds?
Jane: We wanted to make sure our background, world-building material included these planets for completeness. Whether we’d have dealt with them would have depended on the story and characters as we went forward. But, no, we didn’t have a Libran/Canceron plot waiting in the wings.
One of the things I loved about Caprica, and would have loved to see more of, was the diversity of the different societies. And now, looking at this map, it seems like Tauron, Gemenon, Picon and Caprica were all orbiting the same star. Were the other eight colonies, which were orbiting other stars, even more distanced from Caprica? I know we had that on BSG we did meet some Saggitarons who seemed very estranged from Caprican society.
Jane: Bob Harris knew about Kevin’s lay-out of the planets when he was working on “Beyond Caprica,” and certainly took the distance into account when developing the characters of the different colonies.
Kevin: Coincidentally, in the document I originally drafted way back when I was first hired, I made some speculations how the layout of the planets might influence development on each – how astronomy might influence cluture-ironically also mentioning Star Trek’s Risa as an example. I never included any of that in the document I ultimately sent to Jane because almost all of it was obviated by details that came to light in BSG.
I did like how Jane used the options I had suggested to lay out the Twelve Colonies. In particular, I had suggested that two Colonies could be a binary pair like the Earth/Moon system, and I thought that it was brilliant that she put Caprica in mutual orbit with Gemenon. So here we have the Las Vegas planet in mutual orbit with the Salt Lake City planet. Think there might be… dramatic tension… there?
Something that has become topical in the past couple weeks, is the notion that all the astrological signs are “off” by one due to the precession of Earth’s spin axis – so if you’re ostensibly a Scorpio, the Sun is actually in Libra on your birthday. It also “came to light” that there is a 13th sign of the Zodiac.
None of this is new, anybody who has ever taken basic astronomy, or who has ever performed a planetarium show, knows this. In fact, in the original “Astronomy of the Twelve Colonies” document I wrote back in 2005, I said:
Libra is the only non-animal in the Zodiac (which means “ring of animals”), and is a relative newcomer to the Zodiac – it was created from the pincers of Scorpius that were “clipped off” to create a new constellation. The purpose was to create a one-to-one correspondence between the signs of the Zodiac and months of the year. It turns out that, if we define the Zodiac as the constellations through which the sun passes, then there are 13 signs. After our sun skims the top of Scorpius, and before it enters Sagittarius, it passes through Ophiuchus (“The Serpent Bearer”). If you are born between November 30th and December 17th, you’re actually an Ophiuchi. It might be a nice quirky twist to have no colony called named for Libra, but one for Ophiuchus instead-with the constellation Libra being a later Terran cultural influence on the Zodiac.
I didn’t honestly think Ron or David would ever use this info, it’d be distracting as hell to try to explain it, but like your math professor used to say, I included it “for completeness sake”.
I know that Caprica was going to show us the twelve colonies growing closer together. Would we have dealt with the challenges of having four different stellar systems coming together?
Jane: Probably not. This was clearly a stable system, taken for granted by the people who lived there. It doesn’t immediately suggest an emotionally-charged story to me. At least we didn’t have anything planned along these lines.