Q: Why did Taylor claim that they were 'somewhere in Orion's Belt'?
A: I have thought this out and the only logic to this is that Dr. Hasslein and ANSA may or may not have known about the 'Hasslein Curve' near Alpha Centauri. However, the theory of the Hasslein Curve is pretty much familiar with the crews of these flights, especially since they are traveling at near-relativistic velocities. Brent, on the rescue mission, was very familiar with the identification of what happened to them as evidenced by this statement that he makes in the movie "Beneath the Planet of the Apes":
Brent: "Well, in my opinion, Skipper, we've passed through a Hasslein Curve, a 'bend in time'..."
This to me implies that Dr. Hasslein knew of certain effects of bends in space, gravity pools, and the likes of stressed space. He termed this anomaly, rather arrogantly, the Hasslein Curve, in honor of himself. The flight crews were well aware that these 'bends in time' may exist, probably as part of their ATSOL flight training, but none of these phenomenon had been detected or encountered before. The whole effect of the Hasslein Curve was not fully known, and was probably more dire than anyone imagined.
Is it something that is generated by the gravity drive of the ANSA spacecraft? Possibly.
Is it something that occurs naturally in space, or unnaturally, as the case may be? Possibly.
Taylor's mission was the first to approach a previously undiscovered Hasslein Curve. Something happened, either a malfunction with the spacecraft or the phenomena was more powerful than anticipated, and the helpless spacecraft was drawn into the Hasslein Curve carrying the unfortunate crew with it as it went; a modern day Scylla as in the Greek myth. (For a similar take on this, watch the somewhat tolerable sci-fi movie "WING COMMANDER" for a spatial anomaly that devours unlucky ships.)
The crew probably didn't even realize what was going on, they were in hibernation with their total trust placed in the flight control systems and computers. Once the ship began its journey along the Hasslein Curve, the computers, encountering a problem they had no programming to compensate for, brought the flight commander out of hibernation and required a command decision. Taylor, realizing what was happening, had the choice of either awakening the rest of his crew and informing them, or simply riding the curve out to the end, bitter or sweet. Knowing that the mission is FUBAR, unable to contact Earth, with the controls not responding, Taylor makes one last log entry, looks at his crew, and turns in himself for a long hibernation and an unknown fate. This would explain why Taylor was so sure of himself, of the clocks aboard the spacecraft, of time erasing everything that mattered. This would also explain how Dodge and Landon don't seem to share in the knowledge that preceded their fate, and how Landon tries so hard to play catch-up once he comes out of hibernation.
While traveling along the Hasslein Curve, the spacecraft lost control, resorting to full automatic. The onboard computers did the best that they could, but all contact with ANSA and America had been lost (probably due to the fact that in the early '90's a global nuclear war was waged between America and Russia, thus all radio signals would have ceased). I presume that their navionics and electronics were affected by the nature of the phenomena, certainly their computer was as it failed to awaken the crew when Stewart's chamber began to malfunction, and it failed to awaken the crew until after they had touched down, both events of critical importance requiring immediate action from the crew, or so you would think...
After the crash, Taylor stares at the chronometer:
Taylor's ship's chronometer
And realizes that they have been in space FAR longer than they ever originally were supposed to have been; 2006 years, which is probably 1996 years longer than their flight should have (reasonably) lasted.
When Landon and Taylor start to discuss where they are, Taylor simply figures that they flew right past Alpha Centauri, and maybe, judging by their last known velocity and trajectory, he does a rough guesstimate. Taylor doesn't have access to the computers onboard the ship because, apparently, Hasslein Curves and the associated phenomena that goes with them are very unfriendly to flight computers, as evidenced by what Brent says to Skipper right after Skipper's ship crashes in the second movie:
Brent: "Well, we're going to be all right, Skipper. As soon as you feel better we'll run a navigational estimate.
Skipper: "God, if I could only see... the sun."
Brent: "It's up there all right, you can feel it."
Skipper: "Yes ... but which sun?"
Brent: "I don't know... our computer is shot. We're lucky to be alive..."
So, since ships that travel through a Hasslein Curve apparently suffer catastrophic electronic problems, you can see that Taylor is simply doing his best quick shot at what situation they are in. Taylor uses his knowledge of astronomy, the direction they were traveling, and gives his crew his 'expert' opinion, which is somewhat jaded by his knowledge that it just doesn't matter one damn bit any more where they are because what really matters is when they are.
Landon: Well, where are we? Do you have any notions, Skipper?
Taylor: We're some 320 light years from Earth on an unnamed planet in orbit around a star in the constellation of Orion. Is that close enough for you?
Landon (looking up at sun): That star could be Bellatrix...
Dodge: It's too white for Bellatrix.
The point is, the crew is completely lost, their instrumentation is smashed, everything they know is gone, and they are doing their best to both come to grips with the situation, as well as to act professional about it. They start to fail miserably on both cases. Taylor and his crew were headed for Alpha Centauri. The statement that Taylor makes ...
Taylor: We're some 320 light years from Earth on an unnamed planet in orbit around a star in the constellation of Orion. Is that close enough for you?
... is just Taylor being both sarcastic and giving his best guesstimate. His words at the end of his guesstimate really ring this home when he says "Is that close enough for you?" meaning "I don't know where we are, stop asking, it doesn't matter because we are NOT where we were SUPPOSED to be and anyone who cared about that fact is long dead."
The "some 320 light years from Earth on an unnamed planet in orbit around a star in the constellation of Orion." is also another very good clue in that this supposed 'destination' would not even be a feasible journey or mission target even if the crew were traveling at 0.99999 POTSOL. Why? Simply because it would still take (objective time) 640 years (plus mission time spent there) to travel to this planet, do their investigation, and return. I doubt politicians will want to fund a project that, at best, will be six and a half centuries before it shows any benefit to those who are left behind and have to age at a normal pace like the rest of us.
A view of the Orion Nebula, located very far
away from Earth and in all probability, beyond
the reach of ANSA's best technology. Certainly you wouldn't want to build a colony there, not if it took over 320 years for the colonists to arrive ...
In order to help me out with this discussion, I asked Jim Lewis, a POTA fan with a minor in astronomy, to step in and provide some of his knowledge with stellar distances. 320 light years to Orion didn't seem right to me, based on my limited astronomy knowledge (taken years ago) and my assumption was correct. Jim gives some interesting information on the Orion Nebula and its makeup.
Jim writes: I'll use Burnham's Celestial Handbook since I was taught with that one. Robert Burnham Jr was a Staff Member at the Lowell Observatory from 1958 to 1979 and his three volume handbook is the best (I feel) of any available for the observer of the Heavens. Information on interesting objects in the Orion Constellation is found in Volume #2.The principal stars in the Orion Constellation are pretty far away from Earth - some 500 light years and further out. Principals in the Constellation are: Alpha Orionis (Betelgeuse or Betelgeux common spellings) is an Orange-Red Supergiant listed at a distance of 520 lyrs from Earth and is generally accepted as one of the largest known stars. Betelgeuse marks the right shoulder of Orion. Presently, it is believed that Betelgeuse has a companion star that actually orbits within the diameter of Betelgeuse itself! A variable star, Betelgeuse pulsates regularly, with a maximum diameter that would cross the orbit of Mars in our solar system. Beta Orionis is better known as the famous star Rigel. Rigel marks the left leg of Orion the Hunter. Where Betelgeuse is the 11th brightest star in the night sky - Rigel is the 7th brightest - even though designated Beta Orionis. Rigel is a blazing Blue-White Supergiant far hotter and more luminous than Betelgeuse. Rigel is not accurately distanced using parallax measurements but isn't closer than 540 light-years from Earth and generally accepted to actually be 900 lyrs away. Rigel is also interesting because it only displays a velocity of 12 miles per second in regression away from us - one of the smallest known radial velocities measured, meaning Rigel could generally be moving around the Galaxy in relative concert with our solar system. Rigel is a binary, with Rigel B listed as a blue upper main-sequence star that orbits far away from Rigel A - some 2600 astronomical units. Gamma Orionis is better known as Bellatrix - which also has been called the "Amazon Star". Bellatrix is listed as being some 470 light-years distant and marks the left shoulder of Orion the Hunter. Bellatrix is a Blue-White Giant - much larger than our own Sun. Bellatrix also is surrounded by some of the nebulosity that spreads across the Orion Constellation which stretches all the way to the Orion Nebula. (I agree with your assumptions about Bellatrix - for if they ended up there - they certainly weren't traveling at the speed of light for some 2000 years.)
Delta Orionis is also known as Mintaka. Mintaka is one of the three stars that marks Orion's Belt. Mintaka is an Orange Giant and listed about 1500 light-years distant. Delta Orionis is a binary, and Delta Orionis B is a Blue main-sequence star thought to be separate by nearly a half a light-year. They have a relationship like Proxima Centauri does with the binary Alpha Centauri A and B.
Epsilon Orionis is known as Alnilam or spelled Al Nilam (meaning "A Belt of Pearls"). Alnilam is the central star in Orion's Belt and is approximately 1600 light-years distant. Alnilam is a Blue-White Supergiant.
Zeta Orionis is known as Alnitak or spelled Al Nitak (meaning "The Girdle"). Alnitak is the last star that marks Orion's Belt. Alnitak is some 1600 light-years distant, and is a trinary system. A lot of opinions are listed for the colors of the close binary pair - with Yellow and a very hot Blue (almost Purple) generally agreed upon. The third component is generally listed as a Reddish-Green or Reddish-Brown. The Horsehead Nebula is near Alnitak some 1200 to 1600 light-years away, and is about 18 light-years in expanse.
Eta Orionis is a binary pair of Blue-White and a hot Blue (almost Purple) upper main-sequence stars some 940 light-years away. There is a third component in the system, but not generally considered a true member of the binary pair. However, there are listed some variations in the recorded radial velocities of the binary pair that indicates there might be a fourth member of this system not yet identified.
Theta Orionis is better known as the Trapezium, and lies at the center of the Great Nebula of Orion. The Trapezium is a family (sextet) of hot, young stars, that lights up the Great Nebula - and mark the middle of Orion's Sword. The actual distance of the Great Nebula isn't known, but generally accepted to be no closer than 900 light-years from Earth - with the accepted range to be from 1600 to 1900 light-years away based on the observed expanse of the Great Nebula (which is about 30 light-years across). It's possible that the writers might have assumed all the major components in the Orion Constellation to lie the same distance from Earth - and used this upper range distance for the movie.
The Trapezium has four major components and is one of the best known of all multiple star systems in the Heavens. It's really a tight core of stars, with the primary stars being young ones evolving into the main-sequence. Over the years, more have been listed, as they are evolving and heating up. Theta Orionis A is actually a binary and is third brightest (White upper main-sequence), Theta Orionis B is the faintest of the four main stars and is a binary itself (it is also known as Theta Orionis B1 and BM Orionis), Theta Orionis C is the brightest of the group (Yellow-Orange upper main-sequence), and Theta Orionis D is the second brightest in the group (Blue upper main-sequence). There is a Theta Orionis E, Theta Orionis G, and Theta Orionis F listed too, which are smaller and younger than the primaries.
Iota Orionis is the tip of Orion's Sword, and is also called Nair Al Saif (Arabic for "Bright One of the Sword"). Iota Orionis is some 2000 light years distant and is incredibly bright - some 20,000 times the brightness of our own Sun! Iota Orionis is also a multiple star system, with the component stars being an intense White, Blue-White, and Blue (Purplish) group, with the AB pair separated some 6500 astronomical units. Iota Orionis A is a close binary itself. Iota Orionis is much further out from the other stars of the Orion Constellation.
Kappa Orionis is known as Saiph, and is a Blue-White Supergiant 2100 light-years away. Saiph is some 50,000 times more luminous than our own Sun.
Lambda Orionis marks the Head of Orion the Hunter, and is approximately 1800 light-years distant with an actual luminosity some 9,000 times brighter than our Sun. Lambda Orionis is a binary, both stars being Yellow-White Giants.
Another interesting member star in the Orion Constellation is the one listed as PI-3. PI-3 is a normal Yellow main-sequence star like our Sun, just being slightly larger and hotter, roughly 3 times more luminous. PI-3, however, is only 26 light-years away. (I think it interesting, that if the ANSA crew wasn't traveling at near light speed velocities, was traveling towards the Orion Constellation, and did crash land on a planet orbiting a star similar to our own - then PI-3 would make a good candidate.)
Other than little PI-3, the principal components of the Orion Constellation are pretty far away from our solar system. Working out the computed velocity of the ANSA spacecraft, versus the stated travel time and system of landing as stated is problematic. I'll have to give it some more thought.
I hope my little tour of the Orion Constellation hasn't bored you too much!
Not at all ! Thanks for the concrete information, Jim!
So, you see, Orion is farther away than even the distance that Taylor says to Landon, which just goes to show that when Taylor says that they are "320 light years from Earth somewhere in Orion", he's not being factual. He's making up something completely off the top of his head to shut Landon up and the funny thing is, Landon completely misses the irony. Landon is trying so hard to be the text-book commander now and make things better that he actually swallows the hook and tries to hone in on Taylor's speculation, trying to lock it down. Landon looks up at the sun and says "That could be Bellatrix..."
Final synopsis: Taylor and his crew are going to Alpha Centauri, not Orion. Something went wrong, and they became lost in space and time which is very easy to do when you are hurtling through the cosmos at almost the speed of light.
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