Battlestar Galactica Time Units and Their Earth Equivalents

Created by John Larocque on July 1, 1995
Last revised: October 23, 2006

This document is ©2006 John Larocque. All rights reserved.


"What is 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.

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 around 10,000 centons. There are compelling reasons to adopt this definition, as explained later in this document.

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 60 centons. In "Take the Celestra", the Celestra's mutineering crew says that the Galactica would be within its viewing range within a centar, but they would be within communications range within 81 centons. 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 centon, millicenton, and microcenton. The units here are more obviously metric than those used outside these episodes.

centon (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 centons out of the way from its intended destination (Carillon). Later, Sire Uri informs the fleet that the voyage might resume within a centon. The centon may have originally been intended to represent the original Colonial week, represented by secton in most of the series. Although the centon-as-day seems to work as well as the centon-as-week, the presence of two other time units, microcentons and millicentons, and their respective metric conventions, supports the latter view. Possibly, the Colonials redefined centon at one point to reflect minute, and that the original centon represents a pre-Destruction use of the term. The other two terms almost disappeared from the series.

millicenton (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 millicentons. Only one other episode uses this unit. In "The Living Legend", Sheba informs the mission crew that they have only a few millicentons to get in and out of Gamoray. Using the centon-as-week theory, the millicenton becomes 1/1000 of a centon (or secton). Therefore, a millicenton 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 millicentons from the Tylium mine. That's 240 centons or 4 hours if a centon represents one minute.

microcenton (second) - Used by Starbuck in "Lost Planet of the Gods", in the context of one second. This unit was later taken over by micron, which was used exclusively in the pilot episode as a unit of space distance (eg. "50 microns and closing".) In the metric system, micro represents one millionth. Using the centon-as-week rule, the microcenton becomes 1 millionth of a centon. If the centon (or secton) represents exactly 1 Earth week, the microcenton (or micron) would clock at 0.6 seconds.

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

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.

secton - 1 week
centar - 60 minutes (1 hour)
time cycle - one day (24 hours)
centon - 1 minute
micron - 0.6 seconds

This is an extremely attractive conversion table, and conforms to the hidden assumptions for each of the four basic units.

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.