Battlestar Galactica Time Units and Their Earth Equivalents
First created: July 1, 1995
Last revised: April 1, 2000
Maintained by John Larocque
This document is ©2000, John Larocque. All rights reserved.
This document is copyrighted material. Placing a copy of this document
on your site, in part or in full, is expressly forbidden. If you wish to
provide a link to this document from your site, please contact the
author in advance for permission.
"What's a centon?" - Michael, from "Greetings from Earth"
"Whatever that is, I hope it's less than an hour." - Brenda on the
centar, in "Experiment In Terra"
Battlestar Galactica fans have been at a loss for words when asked to
explain what terms like centon or micron mean, and other Colonial
time units. These terms were never formally defined in the series. Yet
nobody has yet to produce an air-tight conversion table for the terms.
This document attempts to provide one.
In general, Colonial time terms substitute nicely for more familiar ones
-- centon for minute, micron for second. It is this light that this
document is presented. What follows is a near complete list of the terms
and their probable meanings.
Major Colonial Time Terms
- millenium (1000 years)
- 1000 yahrens, or 1000 years. According to Adar's speech in the
pilot episode, the Galacticans were approaching the 7th millenium
of time, which would place their calendar in the late 6900's. There
seems to be at least two Colonial calendars, for the Cylon raid on
Umbra occured in 7322, some 20 yahren before the events in "The Man
with Nine Lives". The second figure displaces the earlier figure by
some 300 yahren or so.
- yahren (year)
- The yahren (yah'-rain) best represents the Colonial year, as both
terms are used interchangeably in the series. In one case year was
substituted for yahren in the dialog. In President Adar's statement
in the pilot, he utters "The first peace man has known in a thousand
years.".Therefore the yahren is the Colonial year. The plural can
be represented as both yahren and yahrens. Taken from the German
word for year.
- sectar (month?)
- The sectar (sec'-tar), and its plural sectares (sec-tar'-ays), or
sometimes sectars , is used mostly in the context of space
distance, much as micron and centon are. In "Lost Planet of the
Gods", Lucifer measured the distance between the Galactica and
Baltar's base ship in sectares. In "Baltar's Escape", Adama stated
that "it has been seven sectars since the escape of our captives."
A hidden assumption is that sectar is to secton what centar is
to centon, a unit composed of an unknown number of sectons. Using
a base ten system, a sectar could represent 10 sectons (or
weeks). See micron for units that also double as units of space
- secton (week)
- The secton (sec'-tawn) best represents the Colonial week. In "The
Man With Nine Lives", Apollo complains to Starbuck about how he lost
a secton's pay to one of Starbuck's gambling schemes. A purely
arbirary definition of secton would be 100 centares, as 100 is
the base for at least one other time unit (centar). There are
compelling reasons to adopt this definition, as explained later in
- centar (hour)
- The centar (sen'-tar) and its plural, centares (sen-tar'-ays), or
sometimes centars, is the Colonial hour. In "Baltar's Escape",
Baltar gave Adama three centares to give in to his demands. The
centar is probably 100 centons, for in "Take the Celestra", the
Celestra's mutineering crew says that the Galactica would be within
its viewing range within a centar. The captain, who does not want
the ship to be seen, instructs the crew to hail the Galactica
within 80 centons. In "Take the Celestra", the crew were subjected
to 16 centares intervals of work, the Colonial equivalent of
double-shifting. There is an unknown time unit representing a 24
centar interval. For example, in "The Lost Warrior", Adama gave
Starbuck and Boomer 24 centares to rescue Apollo. This unknown
interval is best understood as a day, which constitutes 24 hours.
Note, the Latin word for 100 is cent. (see also time cycle)
- centon (minute)
- In all but the first two episodes, centon (sen'-tawn) represents
the Colonial minute. Witness the use of the expression "wait a
centon," the Colonial version of "wait a minute." In "Gun on Ice
Planet Zero", Starbuck and Apollo's chronometers were synchronized to
80 centons, the length of their mission to blow up the Ravishol
Pulsar. For a discussion of the first two episodes and the original
centon, see the next section.
- micron (second)
- The micron is best understood as the Colonial second. A centon is
100 microns, for when Apollo's counter hits one centon in "Gun On
Ice Planet Zero", it starts counting down from 100 to 1. The micron
is also used as a term of space distance in the series. When Rigel
tells the fleet that the Cylon patrol craft are "three microns and
closing," she is using micron in the same way that we use the
expression light year. A light year represents the distant light
travels within one year. Here micron represents the distance
covered in one micron within an unknown fixed velocity. No relation
to the Terran micron, or micrometer (one millionth of a meter.)
The First Two Episodes - Centon versus Senton
The discussion in this section covers units used almost exclusively in
the pilot and "Lost Planet of the Gods", including the possible original
context of centon. The time units used in these episodes seem to
conform to a different system than those used in other episodes. These
include senton, millisenton, and microsenton. The units here are
more obviously metric than those used outside these episodes. A
different spelling for senton is used here to distinguish it from the
centon used throughout the rest of the series.
- senton (week)
- While it is well known that centon substituted well for minute in
the series, the pilot episode provides compelling evidence that this
was not always the case. At the Council session dealing with
Carillon, Apollo informs the Council that Adama's plan would take the
fleet sentons out of the way from its intended destination
(Carillon). Later, Sire Uri informs the fleet that the voyage might
resume within a senton. The senton may have originally been
intended to represent the original Colonial week, represented by
secton in most of the series. Although the senton-as-day seems to
work as well as the senton-as-week, the presence of two other time
units, microsentons and millisentons, and their respective metric
conventions, supports the latter view. It is suggested that the
Colonials redefined senton at one point to reflect "minute"
(spelled as centon in this document), and that senton represents
a pre-Destruction use of the term. The other two terms almost
disappeared from the series.
- millisenton (10 minutes)
- This unit is used usually in the context of a few minutes. In "Lost
Planet of the Gods", Adama says that they have been dining for three
millisentons. Only one other episode uses this unit. In "The Living
Legend", Sheba informs the mission crew that they have only a few
millisentons to get in and out of Gamoray. Using the
senton-as-week theory, the millisenton becomes 1/1000 of a
senton (or secton). Therefore, a millisenton constitutes 10
centons (or 10 minutes.) Adama's repast, therefore, becomes 30
minutes, a reasonable legnth of time to eat. In the pilot, in the
beginning of the Carillon sequences Greenbeam informs Apollo that is
landram is 24 millisentons from the Tylium mine. That's 240
centons or 4 hours if a centon represents one minute.
- microsenton (second)
- Used by Starbuck in "Lost Planet of the Gods", in the context of one
second. This unit was later taken over by the unit by micron, which
was used exclusively in the first two episodes as a unit of space
distance. In the metric system, micro represents one millionth.
Using the senton-as-week rule, the microsenton becomes 1
millionth of a senton. If the senton (or secton) represents
exactly 1 Earth week, the microsenton (or micron) would clock at
Minor Colonial Time Units
- centuron (100 yahrens)
- In "Fire In Space", Dr. Salik said that Adama didn't have a "chance
in a centuron". The Colonial century, or 100 yahrens.
- quatron (week/fortnight/month)
- In "The Magnificent Warriors", Adama complained that "I've been
cooped up on this ship for 16 quatrons." (Apollo's response was
"wait a minute!") Adama's last previous excursion off the ship was in
the episide "Lost Planet of the Gods". Possibly a week, fortnight (14
days) or a month. The time period between the two episodes would be a
choice between 4 and 16 months. A quarton equivalent to one secton
(week) causes the least problems. The quatron is derived from the
Latin word for four.
- time cycle (day)
- In "Greetings from Earth", it was said that the visitors would
expire before the time cycle was over. Probably the Colonial day -
consisting of 24 (or 25 if you prefer) centares.
A Sample Conversion Table
Based on the pseudo-metric used in the series, and a base 100 ratio,
here is a sample table for the four main Colonial units, using secton
as exactly one week. Note, the centon is almost exactly one minute,
for there are 10,080 minutes within an Earth week, and 10,000 centons
within a secton.
This is an extremely attractive conversion table, and conforms to the
hidden assumptions for each of the four basic units. All tables present
their own set of problems. The double-shift on the Celestra consisting
of 16 centares is equivalent to almost 27 hours of non-stop work. We
know from the episode that 16 centares represents an extraordinary
length of time for a work shift. The Colonials may have a higher
capacity for duration between sleep cycles. With this in mind, the 27
hour shift becomes slightly more palatable.
- secton - 1 week
- centar - 101 minutes (1.7 hours)
- centon - 1 minute
- micron - 0.6 seconds
A Guide to Galactica Storytellers
Trying to create or utilize a Colonial time conversion table can be a
distracting exercise. In constructing scripts and stories (outside of
time-critical situtations), the best option is to assume that each of
the terms uses their nearest Earth equivalents -- such as year for
yahren, week for secton, hour for centar, minute for centon, and
second for micron, or even use the Terran time terms. In most of the
episodes, this is exactly what the writers did.
In time-critical situations, where relationships between the units are a
must, the best option is to provide a table reference (such as the one
above,) before proceeding with a Galactica adventure.