Battlestar Galactica Finale Goofs

March 23, 2009 11:47 by scibuff

There are a few minor spoilers below but nothing that would reveal the big picture or make much sense without actually seeing the show’s conclusion.

Undoubtedly, the last Friday brought the finale of one of the best sci-fi shows on TV. Battlestar Galactica (BSG) had a great run of four full seasons. Since the finale aired on Syfy channel last Friday many bloggers posted their comments and criticism about the final revelations. I will refrain from commenting on the actually story and rather focus on some easily noticeable mistakes the show creators made. On a side note, I recommend to click on the images below to see them in higher quality.

In modern astronomy, constellations present a method of dividing the sky into (88) areas with precise boundaries. Nevertheless, it is more common to regard constellations as groups of stars resembling recognizable patterns – asterisms. Throughout centuries stars seem to maintain the same position and apparent distances with respect to each other. Nonetheless, long-term observation reveal that the constellations change shape as stars exhibit independent motion, albeit very slow. The constellations in the presence appear roughly the same as the ancient Egyptians would have observe them. Nonetheless, if we went much further back into the past, we would have hard time recognizing asterisms with which we are so familiar today.

At the beginning of the finale (at around 9:00) after Adama spits the contents of his drinks onto his suit, there is a cut back to the fleet. At that moment, anyone slightly familiar with the night sky will immediately recognize the stars of Orion. All prominent stars, apart from Rigel (? Ori) obscured by Galactica, are visible. Easily identifiable are stars from the main quadrangle: Betelgeuse (? Ori), Bellatrix (? Ori), Saiph (? Ori), the stars of the Orion’s belt: Alnitak(? Ori), Alnilam(? Ori), Mintaka(? Ori), and the Orion Nebula (M42).

The Constellation of Orion as seen on BSG - Source: Sci-Fi HD

The Constellation of Orion as seen on BSG - Source: Sci-Fi HD

The proper motion of the Orion stars over the period of 300,000 years. The animation stars in 150,000 BCE and progresses in 50,000 years increments to 150,000 ACE

The proper motion of the Orion stars over the period of 300,000 years. The animation stars in 150,000 BCE and progresses in 50,000 years increments to 150,000 ACE

Unlike most other constellations the stars in the Orion exhibit a small relative motion (as observed from the Earth). The asterism formed more than a million years ago and will remain observable for another million or two into the future. At the time the screen shot above was taken the fleet was nowhere close to Earth but there might be a possible explanation of Orion’s appearance here. With the exception of ? Ori (Bellatrix) at the distance of 240 light years (ly), the rest of the main Orion stars are distanced between 600 and 1300ly away from the Earth. Hence, there might have been a place within a few tens of light years of Earth where a pattern resembling Orion could have been seen in the past. Furthermore, there is evidence that the show creators were aware of stellar drift, as officers mentioned several times the necessity to periodically recompute the jump coordinates. I’m willing to give the show “scientist” the benefit of the doubt, despite Occam’s Razor.

Earth rises above the Moon surface as seen on BSG - Source: Sci-Fi HD

Earth rises above the Moon surface as seen on BSG - Source: Sci-Fi HD

A few seconds before the Earth comes into the camera view, Galactica “flies” over the moon. When the Earth rises, it is apparent that an observer on the planet would see the new moon lunar phase. Hence, Galactica must have come from the far side of the moon and flown directly above the north pole. However, the surface morphology observed on screen does not correspond to features shown in maps of Moon’s far side.

Furthermore, the Earth in the image has virtually cloudless atmosphere and looks as if cut directly out of the Universal Movies intro. Even worse, Earth’s terminator reaches too close to the equator. Even if the fleet arrived at the time of summer solstice, the shadow cannot reach past the Antarctic Circle, which reaches just a few kilometres north of the coast of Antarctica at the longitudes around the southern tip of Africa. In any case, judging by Earth’s tilt and the surface illumination, the time should be close to the autumnal equinox (How do I know this?).

The next image reveals the most easily recognizable mistake. As we learn in the last moments of the show, the fleet arrived at Earth 150,000 years in the past. It was mentioned earlier how stellar drift shapes the face of constellations over time. The stars which give Orion the easily recognizable shape have relatively small proper motion relative to the Sun. Nevertheless, the situation is quite different in the case of the brightest stars in Ursa Major (forming the famous Big Dipper).

The Constellation of Ursa Major as seen on BSG - Source: Sci-Fi HD

The Constellation of Ursa Major as seen on BSG - Source: Sci-Fi HD

The image above was captured a few seconds after the fleet arrived above Africa, roughly at 59:50. It clearly shows the Big Dipper and a more trained eye can easily spot other stars forming the Ursa Major constellation. The problem is that 150,000 years ago, this constellation looked very different and hardly anyone would be able to identify it in the night sky. The actual position of stars forming the Big Dipper is displayed below.

The Big Dipper as seens from Earth in 150,000 BCE

The Big Dipper as seens from Earth in 150,000 BCE

Of course, stars in any given constellation are unlikely to be physically related. Surprisingly enough most stars visible in this region of the sky seem to be connected. Their measured common motion suggests that they all belong to a open star cluster approximately 75 ly away. The cluster is more properly known as the Ursa Major Moving Group.

The proper motion of the Big Dipper stars over the period of 300,000 years. The animation stars in 150,000 BCE and progresses in 50,000 years increments to 150,000 ACE.

The proper motion of the Big Dipper stars over the period of 300,000 years. The animation stars in 150,000 BCE and progresses in 50,000 years increments to 150,000 ACE.

The last goof I noticed could have easily been prevented by asking a somewhat knowledgeable person a simple question. Instead, the writer went for a phrase which would deliver the biggest awe. It kind of reminds me of the mistake George Lucas made by confusing the parsec (pc) for a unit of time (“Kessel run in 12 parsecs”)

Adama: “How’s that possible? Human beings naturally evolved on a planet one million light years away. The odds against that are …”

Baltar: “Astronomical, yeah.”

The Milky Way has the diameter of approximately 100,000 ly. Thus, if it were true that the planet on which the fleet landed was a million light years away, the original 12 colonies could not have been in our galaxy. It gets even worse. As far as we know (and we know quite a lot about the neighborhood of Milky Way) there is no good candidate for a place where New Caprica could have been. There are two dwarf galaxies close to the 1 million light years (Mly) marker. Leo I is a dwarf galaxy at around 0.8 Mly and the Phoenix Dwarf galaxy at around 1.3 Mly. Nevertheless, it is fair to assume that the BSG universe is limited to Milky Way as there are (weirdly enough) references to constellations seen from the Earth, and we have not heard a word of intergalactic travel capabilities.

Finally on a slightly different note. I’m not sure whether to be disappointed or glad about how the series ended. On one hand, I found the “God always has a plan” notion really annoying ever since the Pythia’s prophecy began to play a significant role in the show’s development. The idea of a omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent being “playing the dice” sending agents into people’s head to deliver message for him, or bringing people back from death goes against rational thinking of any sort. On the other hand, Moore’s portrayal how ridiculous irrational and superstitious beliefs are and how they ruin lives, regardless of whether or not that was his ultimate intention, is a good lesson that the viewers should take from the show.

* How did I conclude that the fleet arrives around the time of autumnal equinox? First of all, it is apparent from the illumination of Earth’s surface that the sun is positioned directly behind (the Moon is in the new moon phase). Hence, taking into consideration the axial tilt and the direction of Earth’s motion around the sun (see the image below), the conclusion follows.
Earth's position around the Sun through the year

Earth's position around the Sun through the year

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Comments

14

Nakor

for fraks sake man, this is bullwax what u wrote, its a series and not a discovery channel production, the cgi guys used what they had on stock. if they wanted to do everythin like it should be then it would cost more to mathematicaly calculate the precise place for each star. BSG is drama the planet, the moon it all was supposed to make people feel the emotion. You were probobly the only one who sat before the tv and thought, ” the stars are off and the earth is not like it should be, not enough clouds” whereas other people enjoyed the show and thought ” wow earth now thats a suprise”. get a life and dont think to much.

Marcus

If only to serve as counterpoint to Nakor’s negative comment, I’d like to instead thank you for taking the time to make an interesting post. Like you, I was a bit puzzled by both the Orion and Moon sequences (I didn’t spot the use of Ursa Major and must have been out of the room when the ‘one million light years away’ comment was tossed off, or I would have sputtered my drink all over my shirt) when they appeared during the finale.

When I pointed out Orion, even my wife immediately asked, ‘Wait… so that means they have to be near the real Earth, right?’ and I was left wondering if I’d missed some kind of scene transition that had brought the Galactica to our little nook of the cosmos already. But even that hypothesis was chucked out the window when we got the ’150,000 years later’ label later on.

On the whole, I’m not entirely thrilled with the whole ‘God’s plan’ stuff being borne out as literally valid by what is viewed by most people as one of the strongest science fiction TV series in ages. All along I’ve been hoping for some kind of rational explanation for Baltar’s (and later, the others’) persistent visual hallucinations… but in the end the writers decided to go with, ‘No, seriously, it was god. Or gods. Or something like that. Don’t think too hard. Kthnxbye.’

But I’m just a guy who has been watching BSG because his wife’s a major fan of the show, so what do I know? I like the series; from a dramatic standpoint it’s superb and I can’t think of a single actor in the cast who routinely handed in sub-par performances… but, no, I’m not as wowed by the finale as everyone else seems to be. It’s certainly epic, but I’m not convinced it’s actually satisfying.

Rich

At first I agreed with Nakor…Get a life. Then I started thinking…God has a plan. And Baltar said it doesn’t like being called that. So I thought “God” is a computer and and the whole thing is a giant program and so whenever there were discrepencies with where stars should be etc. it was just a slight computer malfunction. I know its all very Matrix-y but maybe thats what Ron Moore had in mind the whole time. Other than that…it is just a tv show :)

Knowles2

Nakor, you thought perhaps the first time he did just watch and enjoyed. Then watch it a second time for his picking it all apart session.

Nakor

Even if he did—- this is a tv series and not some documentary, its fiction! its writen and composed by peoiple who do not have a degree in astrophisycs, the whole thing about “a milion lightyears away” god hasnt anyone of you ever said ” oh it was a hundred years ago” when refering to your own life? just to emphasise that it was a long time ago? or when you want to say that something is far away but you dont know how far ” a thousand miles away”? people do such things, overgeneralize, use metaphors, or make things seem bigger than they are, its like calling the nazis demons- when they are humans but just evil.. I stand by what i wrote, the author should get a life and not think too much about such things.

Oz

Wow. Of all the goofs…that’s the best you could come up with?

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Battlestar Galactica Finale Goofs | Outdoor Ceiling Fans

[...] Battlestar Galactica Finale Goofs Posted by root 3 hours ago (http://www.scibuff.com) Mar 23 2009 hence taking into consideration the axial tilt and the direction of earth if only to serve as counterpoint to nakor negative comment but i 39 m just a guy who has been watching bsg because his wife a major fan of the show so what do i know 200 Discuss  |  Bury |  News | Battlestar Galactica Finale Goofs [...]

Battlestar Galactica Finale Goofs | Outdoor Ceiling Fans

[...] Battlestar Galactica Finale Goofs Posted by root 10 hours ago (http://www.scibuff.com) Mar 23 2009 hence taking into consideration the axial tilt and the direction of earth if only to serve as counterpoint to nakor negative comment but i 39 m just a guy who has been watching bsg because his wife a major fan of the show so what do i know 200 Discuss  |  Bury |  News | Battlestar Galactica Finale Goofs [...]

arczmaster

I have one thoght about the millon ly miles thing. the distince we have for the milky way is a best gess estiment based on the number of stars we see and how far apart they cominly are it is however posible that we are wrong on this assumtion. as for how the stars looked that far back we cant be sure the seed could change by being hit by an asteroid or a roge planit for that mater.

scibuff

@arczmaster 1 million light years is quite far, our galaxy is several times smaller. Our measurements of its size are quite accurate and definitely do have carry such uncertainty (biggest known galaxies in universe do NOT have the size of 1 million ly).
As for the stars, this is very precise! Stars’ proper motion is easily predictable and can be model to incredible accuracy for thousand and thousands of years.

abhishek ramtirth & ankit rasam

showing me the geometry paper!!!!!!!!!i agree with nakor.

William Joyce

The Big Dipper also appears overhead over a VERY flat Africa. These points about the finale star patterns were immediately apparent to me too but even worse was the depiction of the fleet over Africa which had been flattened to the slight curve of the Earth seen from low orbit. Africa of course could never be seen in full from LEO and the Earths curvature is very great across Africa as it is such a large continent. Flattening it looks even more fake than the star issues!

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