As mentioned when I started the blog, I will occasionally break away from discussing A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones to discuss other maps, including SF maps. This one is particularly interesting: a map of the Twelve Colonies as they appear in the SyFy series Battlestar Galactica, specifically the rebooted series that ran between 2003 and 2010.

Twelve Colonies

In the background lore of the series, it is established that a planet called Kobol is the original homeworld of humanity and where it first established a technologically-advanced civilisation. On Kobol humanity eventually coalesced into twelve nation-states, known as the Twelve Tribes. At one point, due to religious and ethical schisms amongst the others, a Thirteenth Tribe also existed but departed Kobol in a fleet of ships and eventually settled on a distant planet called Earth. Two thousand years later, the other Twelve Tribes also had to abandon the planet when it became (apparently temporarily) uninhabitable. Luckily they were able to escape to a star system containing no less than twelve inhabitable planets and moons, either habitable straight away or through “kobolforming” (terraforming in our parlance). Over a further two thousand years the Twelve Colonies prospered until they were almost destroyed by their own robotic creations, the Cylons, in a devastating series of wars. The (chronologically first) series Caprica, set 1,942 years after the settlement of the Colonies, chronicles the creation of the Cylons and the initial steps to war. Battlestar Galactica itself, set fifty-eight years later, is the story of what happens when the Cylons return to finish the job.

The idea of having twelve habitable planets in the same star system strains credulity, but producer/showrunner Ronald D. Moore went with it in tribute to the original Battlestar Galactica (which ran from 1979 to 1980) which established the concept. During the series not much thought was given on how to have twelve habitable bodies in one system, but science advisor Kevin Grazier worked privately on a series of ideas. When the time came to make Caprica, which would be set entirely within the Colonies, it was decided to use his ideas. Scriptwriter/producer Jane Espenson further worked on ideas and concepts with him.

The Twelve Colonies of Kobol are located in a quaternary system (variously known as the Cyrannus System or the Helios System) consisting of four stars: Helios Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta. Alpha and Beta form a binary system, separated by 126 SU (Stellar Units, equivalent to our Astronomical Units, with 1 AU/SU being distance from Earth to the Sun) and taking 373 years to complete one orbit around one another. Gamma and Delta form an additional binary system, separated by 140 SU and taking 456 years to orbit one another. The two binary pairs are separated from one another by 10,091 SU (0.16 light-years), with the two pairs taking 546,892 years to complete one orbit. The entire star system is located approximately 2,000 light-years from Kobol, although the precise location of Kobol is not known to the modern colonials.

The layout of the system is as follows (names in bold denote the Twelve Colonies):

Helios Alpha

Helios Alpha is orbited by seven planetary bodies:

  • Icarus, a Mercury-like body located close to the star with a molten surface.
  • Picon, population 1.4 billion. An ocean world (75% covered by water). Settled by the Picon Tribe who had initially landed on Virgon before moving on to this world. At the time of the Second Cylon War, Picon is the location of Colonial Fleet Headquarters. Picon’s capital city is Queenstown.
  • Caprica, population 4.9 billion. A temperate world, one of the earliest settled planets in the Colonies. By the time of the First Cylon War Caprica is the richest and most economically and technologically-developed of the Twelve Colonies, as well as the most powerful militarily. By the time of the Second, Caprica is considered the capital of the Colonies and is the seat of the Unified Colonial Government. Caprica is a binary planet, sharing a common orbit with Gemenon, the two planets separated by 493,000km (or about 20% greater than the distance between Earth and the Moon). The capital and largest settlement is Caprica City, although the city of Delphi may be the oldest. Caprica appears to be an analogue for the United States and is the most prominent planet in the BSG franchise, playing a major role on Caprica and in the first two seasons of Battlestar Galactica itself.
  • Gemenon, population 2.8 billion. Another temperate world, although more prone to extremes of temperature and climate from region to region. Gemenon is the planet the Exodus Fleet arrived on 2,000 years before the Second Cylon War, and from where they settled the other eleven colonies (Caprica being the first in that diaspora). Gemenon is one of the poorer colonies but it is also considered the most religious, with several major centres of religious worship. Gemenon and Caprica form a binary planet. Gemenon’s capital city is Oranu, but its main religious centre is Illumini.
  • Tauron, population 2.5 billion. Tauron is inhabited but approaching the borderline of habitability, with large deserts and arid areas and relatively small oceans. Tauron was one of the poorer colonies for centuries following a devastating war in which Virgon and Leonis conquered the planet. A devastating civil war took place about ninety years before the First Cylon War, but the planet then recovered to become a richer world and a centre for scientific research, at one point competing directly with Caprica. After the First Cylon War Tauron became much richer but also very independently-minded, causing issues in the Colonial Government. Its capital city is Hypatia and it is orbited by a ringed moon, Minos.
  • The Erebos asteroid belt orbits beyond Tauron and is home to numerous Tauron mining colonies. These mines may be the source of Tauron’s later wealth.
  • Zeus, the largest planet in the entire system. This is a vast gas giant 153,000km in diameter (compared to Jupiter’s 143,000km). It has 74 major satellites.
  • Persephone is a dwarf planet (similar to Pluto) with a highly inclined and eccentric orbit around Helios Alpha.

Helios Beta

Helios Beta is orbited by four planetary bodies:

  • Troy, a small, mineral rich world. Virgon and Leonis established mining colonies on Leonis in the distant past. Less than ten years before the Second Cylon War, one of the main mining colonies on Troy was completely destroyed in a major accident, killing several thousand people. It appears that the mining colonies used labour from other colonies, with immigrants from Aerilon known to work there.
  • Leonis, population 2.6 billion. Leonis, a highly temperate world, is the physically largest of the Twelve Colonies and has almost no axial tilt, meaning regular and uniform seasons. Leonis is noted for its wine, beaches, ski slopes and its centres of education and learning. Leonis is closely allied with its neighbour Virgon, although in previous centuries they were deadly enemies. Its capital city is Luminere. The planet appears to be inspired by France.
  • Pallas, a small planet that was once inhabitable but seems to be no longer tectonically active. The planet seems to have lost its atmosphere and possibly magnetosphere. Attempts to kobolform the planet back into habitability by Virgon and Leonis have so far failed. Pallas appears to be very similar to Mars in our star system.
  • The Ouranos asteroid belt circles between Pallas and Virgon.
  • Virgon, population 4.6 billion. Virgon is another temperate world and physically the second-largest colony after Leonis. Virgon used to be the most powerful world of the Twelve Colonies, once possessing a multi-planetary empire. Leonis rebelled against this rule and broke free in a bloody war which saw Virgon expend most of its military and economic power, setting the scene for the rise of Caprica. Virgon’s influence can continue to be felt in the common Colonial language, which originated on Virgon. Virgon is nominally ruled by a royal family, although they are mainly for ceremonial purposes with a planetary parliament seeing to day-to-day concerns. Virgon has a naturally habitable moon, Hibernia, inhabited by a small, break-away faction known as the Celtans. Virgon’s capital is Boskirk. The planet appears to be heavily inspired by the United Kingdom/British Empire.
  • Hera, a gas giant (75,000km in diameter, 50% larger than Neptune or Uranus but about 30% smaller than Saturn) with 29 large satellites.

Helios Gamma

Helios Gamma is orbited by five planetary bodies:

  • Thanatos, named for the God of Death, is tidally locked to its star and has an unbreathable sulphur dioxide atmosphere. The planet is considered to be a close approximation of hell.
  • The Acheron asteroid belt is located between Thanatos and Libran.
  • Libran, population 2.1 million. Libran was one of the later-settled colonies and the ability of the colony to expand was limited because most of the planet was declared a massive nature reserve, due to the large amount of indigenous animal life. Due to this, Libran decided to adopt a neutral role in the affairs of the other worlds and offered out its services as a meeting ground and arbitrator for inter-colonial disputes. The Inter-Colonial Court is located on the planet in the city of Themis, its only major settlement (and de facto capital, although officially it has no capital). Libran may be analogous to Luxembourg or Monaco (or even Switzerland) as a very small but very rich nation with prides itself on its neutrality and influence.
  • Scorpia, population 450 million. Scorpia is a verdant jungle world, noted for its dense foliage and towering mountain ranges. The planet’s major income comes from tourism. Scorpia is orbited by a half-formed ring system. The planet originally had a more elaborate ring but this started to disintegrate 100,000 years ago. The Scorpia Fleet Shipyards are located in orbit, along the same plane as the ring, which may provide a convenient source of ship-building materials. Its capital city is Celeste.
  • Sagitarron, population 1.7 billion. This is a relatively barren and mountainous world trying to support a large population spread over a vast amount of terrain. The colony is very poor, its people exploited and used as a source of cheap (and almost slave) labour by the other colonies for centuries. Sagitarron is one of the more religious colonies, perhaps second in piety only to Gemenon. They are somewhat pacifistic, believing that the will of the gods trumps the ambitions of humanity. They are also suspicious of science, technology and medicine. The capital city is Tawa, which was targeted for a terrorist bombing campaign led by Tom Zarek several years before the Second Cylon War, in protest at Sagitarron’s exploitation.
  • Opion, a gas giant 51,000km in diameter (making it marginally larger than Uranus) with 14 major satellites. Opion has a highly inclined orbit, probably influenced by the presence of the gas giant Ragnar which orbits both Helios Gamma and Delta.

Twelve Colonies Helios Delta

Helios Delta is orbited by six planetary bodies:

  • Phoebe, a small planet with a thin atmosphere.
  • Styx, a planet with a thick atmosphere of carbon dioxide and sulphides.
  • The Aeolus asteroid belt is located between Styx and the triple-planet orbit of Hestia, Aerilon and Canceron. The orbital resonances between these bodies and Styx has resulted in the asteroid belt being divided into several ring-like segments.
  • Hestia is a gas giant 42,000km in diameter, making it the smallest gas giant in the system. It has 17 large moons. Aerilon and Canceron are located along the same orbital plane as Hestia, Aerilon at the L4 leading Lagrange point and Canceron at the L5 trailing Lagrange point.
  • Aerilon, population 1.2 billion. The “Food Basket of the Twelve Colonies”, Aerilon is a temperate world noted for its vast fields, praries and plains. The planet is not massively fertile, requiring extensive, labour-intensive cultivation and work to grow its colossal food stocks. As a result Aerilon’s population has a reputation for being rugged, working-class and no-nonsense. Aside from food, the planet’s other major export is minerals, with substantial mines located in several locations. The planet’s capital is Gaoth.
  • Canceron, population 6.7 billion. Canceron has the largest population of the Twelve Colonies and is apparently a temperate world with extremely large cities. However, despite its population Canceron has been unable to convert that into economic success and several of Canceron’s massive cities are surrounded by extensive slums. Canceron’s remoteness from the other major colonies may be responsible for its seeming inability to get a large-scale industrial, military or tourism economy established, although there are signs following the First Cylon War of an economic upturn. Its capital city is Hades.
  • Aquaria, population (permanent) 25,000. Aquaria is the infamous “Ice Colony”, consisting of a single, large continent (Kyros, formed by volcanic activity) with the rest of the planet covered by a large ocean, frozen around the poles. Aquaria has a permanent population of only about 25,000 but travellers and tourists can swell this number twenty-fold. Aquaria is basically a scientific research base (known as Heim), expanded by a utopian cult who wanted to found a culture free from the biases and influences of the other colonies. This hasn’t exactly panned out. It would appear that Aquaria’s position as an actual “colony” is controversial due to its size, but allowed due to the colony’s descent from the Aquarius Tribe of Kobol.

The gas giant Ragnar orbits the common gravitational centre (barycentre) of Helios Gamma and Delta at a distance of  110 SU, taking 899.75 years to complete one orbit. Ragnar is 138,000km in diameter, making it larger than Saturn (116,500km) but slightly smaller than Jupiter (140,000km). The Colonial Fleet military depot Ragnar Anchorage is located in the upper atmosphere of Ragnar and plays a key role in the Battlestar Galactica mini-series.

The Cyrannus System may seem somewhat implausible (though certainly nowhere near as ludicrous as Firefly‘s star system, but we may cover that in a separate blog entry later on) but it’s actually based on a real star system: Epsilon Lyrae is a real “double double” star located 162 light-years away in the constellation of Lyra. The first two stars in the system are separated by 140 AU, the second two by about 70 AU and the two pairs from each other by 0.16 light-years. Additional components to the system have been detected, possibly being large gas giants, small stars or brown dwarf companions.

The Twelve Colonies are obviously only the starting point for the journey of the battlestar Galactica and its fleet, a journey which will eventually take them to Kobol, Earth and several other planets. At some point I’ll look at a map tracing that journey which eventually spans over 4,000 light-years.

And if anyone wants an elaborate stellar map of the Westeros/Essos star system which explains exactly how the seasons work…you’re not going to get it. It’s magic, folks.

NOTE: The maps in this article are from the Official Map of the Twelve Colonies created by Quantum Mechanix, who also make some very good posters and models. The full-size poster map (which looks excellent on the wall) can be purchased now in the UK and USA.