Here’s a quick project I’ve been meaning to look at for a while: a Babylon 5 starmap. This map only shows a few systems and their relative positions in real space (not hyperspace, which is a very different thing). Babylon 5 is one of the few SFF franchises – certainly one of the few TV shows – which actually uses real stars as the basis for locations.
The map is partially based on the fine Stellar Geography article about Babylon 5, where the writer lays out persuasive arguments for the locations of both the Narn and Centauri homeworld based on in-text distances and directions. Unfortunately, insufficient data exists to map the locations of the Minbari and Vorlon homeworlds, and other locations of note.
This map shows Sol, the location of Earth and the heart of the Earth Alliance, and the neighbouring powers of the Narn Regime and the Centauri Republic. Epsilon Eridani, the neutral star system where diplomatic station Babylon 5 is located, is shown, along with the Earth Alliance’s major colonies at Proxima III and Vega VII. These are real-world stars whose distances are known. The location of the Narn homeworld can be inferred from the show (in the episode By Any Means Necessary): we are told that Narn is located 12.2 human light-years (10.0 Narn light-years) from Babylon 5. The only star located at this distance from Epsilon Eridani likely to have habitable planets (actually closer to 12.4 light-years, but that seems a negligible difference) is 82 Eridani.
The location of Centauri Prime is harder to discern, as the only clue we are given is that Centauri Prime is 75 Centauri light-years from Babylon 5 (in The War Prayer). However, the star Iota Centauri is located a pleasing 65.3 human light-years from Babylon 5 (approx 58 light-years from Earth), with a reasonable possibility of hosting planets, and located in a direction that would allow the Centauri to encounter the Narn before they encountered humanity.
Unfortunately we lack any significant clues to be able to identify the stars that are home to the Minbari, Vorlons or other species. One world that does appear is called Markab, and there is a real star called Markab (located 133.35 light-years from Sol and 130 light-years from Babylon 5), but according to J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5‘s main writer, who penned 91 of the show’s 110 episodes), he was unaware of this and the star is not meant to be the location of the Markab homeworld.
In the Babylon 5 universe, interstellar travel is conducted via hyperspace. Hyperspace is a parallel (but featureless) universe that exists alongside our own and intersects with it at every point, but is much smaller. Because of this, ships can enter hyperspace, travel several thousand or million kilometres and exit hyperspace several light-years away from their prior location. However, hyperspace features strange gravitational eddies, inclines and currents that prevent simple linear travel. Ships might have to fly “against” the current to get to a target destination, and in some areas hyperspace travel might become impossible, necessitating a return to real space and travelling across open space to get to another jump gate located “beyond” the obstruction in hyperspace. In other areas there may by hyperfast currents and eddies that can dramatically speed ships to remote regions in hyperspace, allowing them to re-enter real space thousands or even tens of thousands of light-years from their prior location in just a few days, whilst it might take weeks to travel a hundred light-years under normal conditions.
In terms of plot, of course, the vagaries of hyperspace travel allow the writers to be vague about travel times and have ships travelling at the “speed of plot.” That said, J. Michael Straczynski was reasonably consistent about travel times. It is a two-day jump from Earth to Babylon 5 (10.5 light-years) and a three-day jump from Babylon 5 to Centauri Prime, despite Centauri Prime being considerably further away (~58 light-years based on the map calculations). It is also a two-day jump from Babylon 5 to Z’ha’dum on the galactic rim, a distance approximating 25,000 light-years (assuming Z’ha’dum is on the rim closest to Earth, otherwise possibly considerably further; 75,000 light-years if it is located on the opposite side of the galaxy).
For these reasons, a literal distance map between stars is somewhat pointless, since stars relatively close in realspace might entail a long trip in hyperspace, whilst stars located thousands of light-years apart might be a very quick trip in hyperspace. As a result, various fan and quasi-canon Babylon 5 maps in licensed material show maps in terms of jump nodes rather than literal distances.
Still, this was a fun little map to put together, using Celestia to establish the relative stellar relationships.
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