Science in the Re-imagined Series

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The Re-imagined Series thrives on its concentration on the story and the characters that develop it, rather than attempting to awe its audience and drive the story by futuristic technology. Nevertheless, Battlestar Galactica is still a science-fiction program. Its writers may choose to adhere with Einsteinian, Euclidian and Newtonian principles as we know them here on the real-world Earth when ships, characters, and events require a particular physical result in, say, a space battle, in a medical complication, or when traveling from place to place.

These series of articles summarize or notes information about scientific objects and events in the Miniseries and regular series and attempts to draw more information, cite problems or contradictions, or conclusions of the scientific principles revealed as part of the series' plot. In short, this article analyzes Battlestar Galactica's "technobabble" and determines how much of it is accurate, interesting, or just plain made-up.

This parent article discusses miscellaneous topics that are not covered in the available sub-articles.

Use of real scientific principles and methods

Galactica has an astrometrics lab that uses spectroscopy and optical telescopes to navigate through space and acquire data for FTL computations. This is an example of not using "magical" sensors to get information, even though a spectroscope technically has an optical sensor. Furthermore, spectrograms can sometimes be seen in Raptors, such as when Boomer and Crashdown survey planetary systems in search of water (TRS: "Water").

Baltar notes the use of carbon nanotubes in his Cylon detector. Although it is possible that he is just making it up to obtain the nuclear warhead, this implies that the Colonials have extensive knowledge about and practical applications for this technology (TRS: "Bastille Day").

Colonel Tigh mentions synchrotron radiation in "Maelstrom". While this sounds like technobabble at first glance, it is actually a real phenomenon possible in gas giants, due to their immense magnetic fields.

Electromagnetic pulses are mentioned on at least two occasions to be generated by nuclear weapons detonated in space (TRS: Miniseries, "Pegasus"). While nuclear weapons exploding very high in atmospheres or in low planetary orbit produce such a pulse, this would not occur in open space (see the EMP article for the explanation). However, the gamma-ray emissions of the detonation alone could still be sufficient to blind the DRADIS as noted and shown in the episodes.

Admiral Adama mentions wormholes and dark matter in "Sacrifice". While dark matter is only a theory today, and only inferred by mass discrepancies in observed galaxies, it is apparently a proven phenomenon to the Colonials. In the same episode Sharon Valerii warns of pulsars interfering with the DRADIS. Pulsars give off large amounts of electromagnetic radiation, albeit very directional.

Why Gaeta will never be "Spock"

The writers intentionally avoid characters discussing any super-technical particulars in depth. This is logical in that, if the characters know that they can or cannot reach a particular location (they can see their own displays), there's no practical reason for the characters to discuss it amongst themselves (and therefore to us); it would be meaningless dialogue in a show that is heavily supported by the personalities of the characters (and is limited in time to tell viewers a story).

The irascible Colonel Tigh would look at Lieutenant Gaeta as if he grew a third eye in his forehead if Gaeta started to spout off the precise distances and time necessary for Galactica to travel from place to place. Talking about such minutiae in this new Battlestar Galactica is just not in character.

Why doesn't Colonial Heavy 798 simply jump to Galactica?

In the Miniseries, Colonial Heavy 798 casually travels 5.5 hours at sublight speeds to get to Galactica. Why does the starliner take its time? Why don't they simply jump to Galactica to save time?

There are several possibilities.

  • Discomfort: FTL travel is a very disconcerting sensation to most humans. Even some trained military staff such as Cally hate the sensation caused by it. Starliners would likely rather not jump if they can help it, and probably explicitly warn travelers when they book an FTL flight.
  • Scheduling: Galactica's decommissioning ceremony is set for a specific time and date. While Intersun could have created an FTL flight, passengers still need time (mentally or physically) to prepare for their trip. As humans without instantaneous travel ability, viewers may not realize that such travel may create issues of logistics for passengers (many who are late or procrastinate) who actually anticipate that they will get 5 hours to plan for their event, or to just sleep.
  • Flight rules or protocol: It may be against Colonial flight protocols for any non-military vessel to jump to the adjoining space of a Colonial Fleet vessel. This makes the most sense because warships such as battlestars are always on the lookout for a sudden appearance of any ship that approaches them. If Colonial Heavy 798 were to jump straight to the battlestar, all kinds of alarms would go off in CIC until the battlestar could verify the incoming vessel is friendly. Given that terrorism existed in the Colonies, even a "friendly" vessel may not be necessarily be a "friendly".
  • Expense: The ships of the escaping survivors that make up Galactica's civilian Fleet use FTL travel frequently because they have to. There is little discussion of the economy or frequency of using FTL regularly before the Colonies were attacked.
  • Distance: There may be a minimum distance where using FTL can be considered practical. As seen in "Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down", a (supposedly) damaged Raider is capable of making random jumps in such close proximity to each other that the CAP is able to intercept it again in a matter of seconds. The key point is that ships cannot perform many jumps in rapid succession; they need to take time to calculate a new jump and power up their FTL drives. During this time lag, a ship might be able to close the distance to its required destination simply by using its normal sublight engines. For example, during the Battle of the Resurrection Ship, most of the Cylon fleet's Raiders are lured away from their fleet, but they do not jump back to defend against the Colonials when the ruse is discovered. A possible explanation is that it would have actually taken less time to cover this distance at sublight than it would to perform jump calculations for several minutes, then jump.

Why hasn't Galactica jumped in over 20 years?

Before the attack, Galactica herself hadn't jumped for over 20 years, according to Saul Tigh (TRS: "Miniseries"). Aside from the general reasons for not jumping about (see above), Galactica is a special case:

  • Galactica was among the oldest ships in the Colonial Fleet. In comparison to her modern sister battlestars, Galactica's un-refitted status may have made her woefully poor for modern battlestar training. Some Colonial Fleet staff may have also felt that Galactica's age and lack of advanced Colonial technology had deemed her not spaceworthy for regular jumping (as Saul Tigh appears to believe, training notwithstanding).
  • It's also likely that Galactica was also an historic vessel that few Colonial government politicians would care to lose to an FTL accident if they were defense spending proponents. Therefore, she may have been practically "dry-docked" around the vicinity of Caprica, still commissioned and regularly manned, but not considered an effective warship on normal patrol. Possibly, when the costs of running Galactica as a regular warship became too high, the idea of formally dry-docking the ship in orbit around Caprica, and turning her into a museum, is considered [1].
  • Another possibility would be to consider the purpose of a military vessel like Galactica while in times of peace. Her standing mission most likely involved patrolling Colonial space. It would not be practical or effective to jump from point to point when performing such a patrol.

Construction of the Blackbird

In his podcast for "Flight of the Phoenix", Ron D. Moore acknowledges the build-time dilemma for the Blackbird, and notes that the vagueness of time elapsed to build the machine was intentional so as to allow it to be built and done with in one episode, instead of drawing out the building into two or three episodes.

Some viewers may express confusion over the amount of time necessary to build the new fighter as well as the time it took to fight off the logic bomb and the Cylon attack. All in all, the whole episode may seem like a series of deus ex machina events to close up the episode.

To the episode's credit, it appears that several weeks' worth of time elapse in the episode. This might stretch believability in the fighter's construction, but not in the logic bomb crisis. It must be noted that the breakdown in morale has left many of the crew with very little to do that's worthwhile in their free time. A monumental task such as building a fighter may be relatively easy for a highly motivated, highly skilled, but highly bored group of people (as indicated by the near-cheerful disposition of the workers when Lee Adama and Tigh visit the fighter).

Further, the fighter is aided by specialists of particular fields in its construction--something that Tyrol hasn't the luxury of having while in combat situations. As such, he has more willing and able resources at his command to create the ship than during any Viper repair. The crew is also not under pressure to build the system rapidly; there are many contributors, and work such of this lead to a faster build time. It may also be presumed that the Viper design, of which the Blackbird is derived, may have a simple construction of avionics, crew pressure module, engines, and superstructure. These ships are designed for rapid repair and redeploy, so, aside from the Blackbird's initial framework, much of the ship would likely be similar to a Viper. Also, the Blackbird is likely built with more modern technology than that found in the older and harder-to-service Viper Mk. II fighters--the Blackbird is likely descended more from the advanced Mk. VII Viper, which Tyrol's crew is trained to understand and maintain, not the obsolete Viper Mk. II museum pieces.

It is also established in the episode that there are spare spacecraft parts available to Tyrol—at the beginning of the episode he marks a severely damaged Viper for scrap, and Colonel Tigh walks in on his still and informs him of some extra engines and other parts that another ship in the Fleet is trying to dispose of. Given the ability to cannibalize already built parts, the assembly of the Blackbird is not as great a task as building a Viper from scratch might be.

Lastly, the Colonials had built a stealth ship before. Some of Tyrol's crew may even have experience with stealth technology.

The problems of colonization

The harsh conditions in New Caprica City illustrate the difficulties of establishing a colony on a new planet, let alone one that is as inhospitable as New Caprica. These difficulties are greatly amplified by the small size of the surviving human population.

A small founding population is prone to the effects of inbreeding, but the historical example on Earth indicates that, with the proper regulation of consanguineous marriages, it should not be a problem for a city larger than a few hundred people[2]. The population on New Caprica was drawn from the full Twelve Colonies so its initial genetic diversity should be high.

These factors will apply wherever the human population settles, assuming it does not find the Thirteenth Tribe with its existing population base. There is a reason it took Homo sapiens on Earth over 100,000 years to grow from a population of 50,000 to a global technological civilization: population size is a necessary (though not sufficient) condition for economic development, because it allows for division of labor[3]. The Colonials may be able to leapfrog because of their existing knowledge and skills, but judging from the History of the Twelve Colonies, it took the tribes leaving Kobol roughly 2,000 years to develop into an advanced civilization. One can argue that it would take the surviving human population an equivalent length of time to do the same---perhaps longer, given that their exodus was unplanned.

The humans will have to develop agriculture, industry, and infrastructure almost from scratch. In the time it takes them to do so, there will be a slow erosion of knowledge, as the original population with its memories of the Twelve Colonies dies off. It is quite likely that economic development would regress before it improves. Indeed, after less than two years, the humans have already exhausted their supply of medicines and have developed no way to manufacture more.

References

  1. The United States has a counterpart to what Galactica might have been or was to become: the USS Constitution--"Old Ironsides."
  2. See "Biological Dimensions of Small Human Founding Populations" by J.B. Birdsell in Interstellar Migration and the Human Experience. University of California Press, 1985.
  3. See "The Division of Labor and Interstellar Migration" by William A. Hodges in Interstellar Migration and the Human Experience. University of California Press, 1985.