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In the 1979 sci-fi horror film Alien, the drama plays out against the backdrop of a universe that spans at least three star systems:
- The Zeta 2 Reticuli system,
- The star system of the Thedus mining outpost, and
- Our solar system.
This post will explore the first two to provide additional context.
THE ZETA 2 RETICULI SYSTEM
Zeta 2 Reticuli is found in the Reticulum constellation (sometimes called “The Reticle,” after the Latin for “small net”). It was introduced in 1621 by German astronomer Isaac Habrecht II (who originally named it Rhombus). and was renamed le Réticule Rhomboide by French astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille (in the 18th Century), and later Latinized to Reticulum.
The story goes that he named it after the cross-hairs in his telescope’s eyepiece, which he used for measuring precise star positions.
The Reticulum lies in the southern sky and can be seen in the fall season.
In ALIEN, the planetoid from which the “systematized transmission” emanates is located in the Zeta 2 Reticuli system.
Further, the Nostromo‘s general location at the film’s beginning is “just short of Zeta 2 Reticuli,” as evidenced in a dialogue between Kane, the executive officer, and Lambert, the ship’s navigator:
So what exactly do we know, in real terms, about this distant and mysterious star system?
ζ Reticuli (Zeta Reticuli) is a wide binary system (having very elongated orbital paths) composed of two yellow G-class stars about 39 light years from our solar system. Its Bayer designation is “ζ”, or “Zeta”, meaning it is the least brightest in the constellation.
Zeta 1 Reticuli is 39.16 light years distant, and Zeta 2 Reticuli is 39.24 light years from Earth. The stars orbit each other and share similar characteristics with the Sun.
Zeta 2 Reticuli is a yellow dwarf and is known to be orbited by a circumstellar debris disk.
The Zeta 2 Reticuli system gained notoriety in the 1960s as the home of the little grey-faced, black-eyed humanoids who allegedly abducted Barney and Betty Hill. Since then, it has sometimes been the touch-stone of extraterrestrial mystery.
As of yet, no planets have been discovered in the system.
In ALIEN, we learn (in a rather heated exchange of dialogue between Ripley and Dallas) that the Nostromo was en route to Earth from a planet called Thedus:
We learn little else about the planet in the film, but when we turn to the Astro-Cartography section of The Alien Universe Timeline website, we find its possible location on this star map:
ε Reticuli (Epsilon Reticuli) is a double star system, consisting of an orange sub-giant and a white dwarf. The stars are 59.5 light years from Earth.
The designation “ε” (“Epsilon”) marks it as the fifth brightest in the constellation.
It is notable that, on December 11, 2000, a team of astronomers announced the discovery of a planetary companion “b” with a minimum mass of 1.17 that of Jupiter, with a similar diameter. Its average distance from Epsilon Reticuli is 1.16 AUs, which would be between the orbital distance of Earth and Mars in the Solar System. It takes 418 days to complete its orbit.
This information provides an interesting playground for the imagination. For example, could this planet associated with “Thedus”? If not, is Thedus perhaps one its the moons?
Or, is Thedus another planet altogether, undiscovered except in the mind’s eye?
P.S. This is the first in a series of articles about the universe of ALIEN that I hope to publish. While much has been established about the worlds we have seen on the movie screen and in the official media, there are many facets to explore through posts like these.
Reticulum Constellation. Constellation Guide. As of March 12, 2017.
Reticulum The Net. Ian Ridpath’s Star Tales. As of March 12, 2017.
The Truth about Betty Hill’s UFO star map. Astronotes. As of March 12, 2017.
Bayer Designation. eSky. As of March 12, 2017.
Epsilon Reticuli. SolStation. As of March 12, 2017.
StarryNightPhotos.com. Christopher J Picking. As of August 7, 2017.
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