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 distance.
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 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 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 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

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.

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.