Helios Alpha and Virgon

The good folks at QMX sell a gorgeous map of Cyrannus,* the system which contains the Twelve Colonies. It’s based on the IRL Epsilon Lyrae system. I have one framed on my office wall. But as I identified from the outset (and will summarize here) the “Maggieverse” insists that QMX made three significant mistakes. The Racetrack Chronicle cannot avoid confronting one of them directly: The location of Virgon.

Battlestar Galactica may start a long time ago in a star-system far, far away, but it takes place in our own universe, subject to the same rules of physics. This allows us to extrapolate some “canonical facts” (i.e. things that are not explicitly stated in canon but which follow by necessarily implication from things which are so). From those, it follows that contrary to QMX’s positioning of it in Helios Beta, Virgon must be in Helios Alpha.

  • Canon: As Colonial Heavy 798 leaves Caprica, their flight-time to the Galactica is “approximately five and a half hours.”
  • Canon: The “thirty-minute communications delay” tells us that the Galactica is ~thirty light-minutes (~539.6 million KM) from Caprica.
  • First necessary implication of canon: With no reason to think that the pilot had his foot on the gas (or was taking his time), we must assume the flight to be within routine parameters. Thus, Colonial liners cruise at ~98 million KM/h.

(For more on why CH798’s flight and Colonial comms must be subluminal, see the fuller explanation in the post linked above.)

  • Second necessarily implication of canon: The Galactica is in the Helios Alpha system at Zero Hour. We can’t know where to mark the outer edge of the system, whether in terms of colonial astronomy or law. But we know from the QMX map that the outermost of its significant planets is the titanic gas-giant Zeus. In our Solar System, the innermost gas-giant, Jupiter, orbits the sun at 43.2 light-minutes (778.5 million KM). Thus, even if Zeus’ orbit marks the outer boundary of the Helios Alpha system, the Galactica is well within that system for any reasonable value for Zeus’ orbit.

Now let’s talk about Virgon.

  • Canon: Shortly after the attack on the colonies begins, Gaeta reports that “the main fight is shaping up over here, near Virgon’s orbit. But even at top speed, they’re still over an hour away” from the Galactica’s position. Adama notes that the Galactica can avoid detection during her approach to the battlefield by keeping Virgon between them an the fight.

(A minor nitpick rejected: Technically, Jupiter is “over an hour away” if we were to drive there this afternoon in a beat-up Morris Minor. But the pragmatics of the phrasing are clear. Virgon is more than 60 minutes away but fewer than ~100 minutes away.)

  • Necessary implication of canon: Virgon is in Helios Alpha. Although we can reasonably assume that the Galactica has a flanking speed well in excess of CH798’s cruising speed, it cannot be anything like what she’d need to reach a planet in Helios Beta in a timeframe which reasonably answers to “over an hour away.”

We can demonstrate this by running the numbers on the best-case scenario. Suppose that the Galactica is 30 light-minutes directly along the axis between the αβ pair, and both Caprica and Virgon, coincidentally, are also sitting right on that axis at that moment. On those facts, the Galactica is at least 18.5 billion KM from Virgon’s orbit.** Even if we stretch the pragmatics to breaking-point and say that the Galactica is two hours from Virgon, she would have to move at 9.2 billion KH/h, which is 94 times faster than our clocked speed for CH798 and a significant percentage of the speed of light. And, again—that’s the best-case scenario.

Thus, in my continuity, I take QMX to have made a typographical mistake, flipping the positions of Virgon and Tauron.

This is an idiosyncrasy of the Maggieverse continuity, I admit. But swapping the positions of those two planets is the solution which does the least violence to the map while making the math work. Nothing canonically insists that Tauron is in Helios Alpha, and canon requires that Virgon must be. If Virgon is just inside the habitable zone of Helios Alpha and the Galactica is between the asteroid belt and Zeus, it becomes conceivable that if the fight is far enough toward Zeus’ orbit that it can plausibly be called “near” Virgon’s orbit, and if the alignment’s just right, maybe the Galactica could make it there in an hour doing a speed within the ballpark of that at which we clocked CH798.

The consensus in the fan community seems to be that the QMX map is the most canonical non-canon thing there is, so I hesitate to deviate from it. I treat it as canon except for those places where it cannot be correct. This is one of those cases: The math is inescapable.

________

* How’s that pronounced, you might wonder? The word comes from a TOS episode in which Starbuck refers to his home port as “SIH’ra’nus galaxy” (rhymes with tyrannous), which was presumably scripted as Cyrannus. That’s also the prevailing pronunciation among fans. Nevertheless, I have made an argument for “KŪR’ah-nus.”

** Okay, if you’re reading the footnotes, that means you’re a nerd like me. Which means that you want the actual math. Here you go: Galactica is ((299792.458*60)*30)+(15000000+((384400*4.332)/2) KM along our notional axis between the two stars. QMX says that Helii Alpha and Beta are 126 AU apart, and the maximum possible orbit for “Virgon” in this scenario is well within Mars’ 1.524 AU orbit because of the limits of the habitable zone. If the Galactica is 690,459,034 KM from Helios Alpha, it is therefore no less than 18,520,567,390 KM from the orbit of Virgon.

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4 thoughts on “Helios Alpha and Virgon

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  1. On the other hand, I’d personally treat Virgon’s placement as eventually retconned since the miniseries clearly took place in one inhabited system (per RDM’s vision of tribute to the original series), and regard the target of the final battle as either non-canon or switch Virgon with Tauron (which wouldn’t damage the story in any way, and it’d even add more symbolism since Tauron was Adama’s ancestral world). But that’s just my headcanon.

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    1. Back at the beginning of the project, the swap was purely driven by the math. I understand the point about retcon and the likely assumptions of the Miniseries script, but it seems to me that with no actual contradiction in the canon, A-canon should trump the QMX map. We shouldn’t retcon just to save some inattention to detail by QMX’s cartographers, even though it’s a gorgeous map and one hangs in my offfice.

      Funny thing is, though, that whatever the original reasons for the switch, I like the effect it had in shaping a mythos and backstory for this book and the one that’s coming next. The Chronology in the appendix and some of the short-stories that I published while working on the Chronicle flesh out some of that backstory, but I like the idea of Virgon as a kind of fading power, a once-preeminent imperial master that’s long past its prime, wholly overshadowed by its upstart neighbor Caprica, its heels nipped by its former vassal Picon. I like (although I found nowhere to really explore this in the book; it’s hinted at but not explored) the idea that Maggie and David is still a somewhat outré pairing. It also sets a completely different playground for Leonis, a different context for Tauron, and it provides a regional power in Helios Alpha before the rise of Caprica, which had to have been relatively late in Colonial history. So although the swap was done for math reasons, I do like the dramatic effect too.

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      1. I completely understand your point. I must say I just like the obvious parallel between Virgon’s UK/Netherlands and Leonis’ France/Italy, portrayed in a “Fantasy Counterpart Culture” manner.

        As for the official map, there are a few things I’d change about it – mainly orbits and some placements. I’m not even sure if the whole system would be stable, not to mention plausible. Four distinct stars with compact terrestrial planets might’ve been more likely to exist, although I’m still going back to the idea of 12 different systems altogether (as Eric Newport of Kethinov proposes). Mainly because of that (silly) idea of RDM to follow the original series in one crucial aspect of astronomy and take a break from “naturalistic science fiction”.

        However, a smaller setting with neighbors already in-system (like The Expanse) may seem more interesting and provide more incentive for wars etc. But the standard “one habitable planet in one system” SF rule is more conservative. After all systems with multiple habitable systems might be very rare.

        Anyway, the Twelve Colonies are a fantastic background for wordbuilding.

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