Vega in fiction
The planetary systems of stars other than the Sun and the Solar System are a staple element in much science fiction. Vega (Alpha Lyrae) is a blue-white star in the constellation Lyra (the lyre, see High Sierra, below) that is frequently featured in works of science fiction. Like its bright cousins Sirius, Deneb, and Altair, it is classified as a star of spectral type A. Roughly two and a half times the size of the Sun, it is 40 times as luminous and, together with Arcturus and Sirius, one of the most radiant stars in our galactic neighborhood. Its luminosity joins with its relative proximity to the Earth—it is only 25 light-years away—to make it the fifth brightest star in the night sky (see French and English Tragedy by George Croly, below). Vega is rendered decidedly oblate by its rapid rate of rotation[note 1], and since it is pole-on to the Sun, it appears significantly larger to earthbound observers than it actually is. For this and a variety of other reasons Vega has been extensively studied by astronomers, leading it to be termed "arguably the next most important star in the sky after the Sun."
Based on an observed excess emission of infrared radiation, Vega appears to have a circumstellar disk of dust. This dust is likely to be the result of massive collisions between objects in an orbiting debris belt, and it is analogous to the Kuiper belt in the Solar System. Irregularities in the disk also suggest the presence of at least one planet, about the size of Jupiter, in an orbit large enough to allow the formation of smaller rocky planets closer to the star. Regardless of its ultimate tally of planetary companions, the fact that it has an estimated age of just 455 million years suggests that the Vega system is too young to have fostered the development of life or a complex biosphere on any of its worlds.
The name Wega (later Vega) comes from a loose transliteration of the Arabic word wāqi‘ meaning "falling" or "landing," via the phrase an-nasr al-wāqi‘, "the falling eagle." The star figures prominently in the mythology of cultures as diverse as the Polynesian, ancient Greek, Roman, Chinese (see Qi Xi below), Persian, and Hindu.
General uses of Vega
Vega may be referred to in fictional works for its metaphorical (meta) or mythological (myth) associations, or else as a bright point of light in the sky of the Earth, but not as a location in space or the center of a planetary system.
- Qi Xi (206 BCE – 220 CE), "the night of sevens," festival honoring a Han dynasty legend. The young cowherd Niú Láng (Altair) meets by chance and marries Zhī Nŭ the weaver girl (Vega), seventh daughter of the Celestial Goddess; the two live happily together and have a pair of children (his flanking stars β and γ Aquilae). The Goddess, furious that Zhī Nŭ has married a mere mortal, orders her home to resume her day job weaving colorful clouds. Niú Láng follows her, but is not unnoticed by the mother, who angrily uses her hairpin to scratch a wide river in the sky—the Milky Way—to separate the lovers forever. Once a year all the magpies in the world take pity on them and fly up to heaven to form a bridge over the star Deneb in Cygnus, so that they may be together for a single night (see graphic). (myth)
- "French and English Tragedy" (1823), magazine article by the Rev. George Croly. Croley, in describing the white nights of St. Petersburg, writes To the ordinary eye the heavens, though clear, are almost starless; only brilliants like Vega and Arcturus have power to make an impression upon the retina. Summer midnight in the Russian capital is thus a simple twilight... (sky)
- Emily's Quest (1927), novel by Lucy Maud Montgomery (previously author of Anne of Green Gables et seq). Emily Starr and Teddy Kent have been friends since childhood, and as Teddy is about to leave to further his education as an artist, Emily believes that their friendship is blossoming into something more. On their last night together she sighs, Look at that star, Teddy – the one just over the youngest Princess. It’s Vega of the Lyre. I’ve always loved it. It’s my dearest among the stars. They vow to think of each other when they see this symbol of faithfulness in the heavens. (sky, meta)
- "Talk of the Town" (1933), New Yorker feuilleton by E. B. White. White describes the "telescope man" of Bryant Park in New York: He charges ten cents for a look at the tip of the Empire State Building, and only five cents for a look at Vega, star of the first magnitude. The tip of the building, being not far away, is pleasantly comprehensible to his customers. Vega, being three times as remote as Sirius, merely gives them a feeling of cosmic despondency, a dizzy, uneasy moment in West Forty-second Street. They find it more comforting to pay five cents more, and not see so far. (sky)
- High Sierra (1941), film written by John Huston and W. R. Burnett, and directed by Raoul Walsh. On his way to a planned heist in the Sierra Nevada mountains, Roy Earle (Humphrey Bogart) meets Velma (Joan Leslie). Under the night sky one romantic evening, they gaze at the heavens: [VELMA] Look at the stars. I never knew there were so many stars in the sky… Roy looks up, then points to the zenith. [ROY] See that bright blue star up there? That's Vega. See how it sparkles? It's in kind of a lopsided square with points running up... see it? That's the constellation Lyra. [VELMA] I see it. How do you know? [ROY] A man I used to know, a pal of mine, learned me all about the sky. (Awkwardly.) There wasn't much else to do where we was. [VELMA] Is that star always up there like that? (sky)
- A padlás (1988), popular Hungarian language musical comedy written by Gábor Presser, Dusán Sztevanovity, and Péter Horváth, and directed by László Marton. Four ghosts roam the Earth from attic to attic (staying close to the heavens), waiting for the ferryman Révész, who will conduct them to Vega, the star of "eternal beauty." Vega is where all dreams and memories live, and if they can get there, they will become beautiful forever. (meta)
There follow references to Vega as a location in space or the center of a planetary system, categorized by genre:
- City at World's End (1951), novel by Edmond Hamilton. Government Center on Vega IV is the nexus of galactic administration in this novel about the unremarkable, middle-class Earth city of Middletown hurled by a nuclear explosion to a dead world in the unimaginably far-distant future.
- Foundation (1951), first novel in the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov. Vega was the capital of the Vega Province in the Galactic Empire, one of the wealthiest provinces in the entire Galaxy. Until the revolt of the Anacreon Prefect, it traded with Terminus, capital of the Foundation. Salvor Hardin, the first mayor of Terminus City, considered the threat of being cut off from Vega to be one of the gravest perils faced by the nascent Foundation. One of the commodities Vega exported was tobacco, of notably high quality.
- Cities in Flight, (1955–1962), series of novels by James Blish. The Vega system is home to a civilization Blish names the Vegan Tyranny, which is blocking mankind's expansion into the galaxy. To fulfill their manifest destiny, men must defeat the Tyranny. The series' reflection of recent (from the vantage of 1955) earthly events, and the fascistic nature of the Vegan Tyranny, exhibit Blish's pessimistic view of the cyclic nature of history, as influenced by his reading of Spengler's The Decline of the West. Blish later recycled these ideas in his novelization of "Tomorrow is Yesterday" (1967), an episode of Star Trek: The Original Series.
- The Stars My Destination (1956), classic science fiction novel (titled Tiger! Tiger! in the UK) written by Alfred Bester. After his apotheosis in the burning cathedral, the legendary Gully Foyle teleports stark naked to the vicinity of several stars, including Vega: "Vega in Lyra ... burning bluer than Rigel, planetless, but encircled by swarms of blazing comets whose gaseous trails scintillated across the blue-black firmament ..." (see graphic) The interstellar "jaunting" sequence is typical of Bester's signature pyrotechnics, his quick successions of hard, bright images, and mingled images of decay and new life.
- Have Space Suit—Will Travel (1958), juvenile novel by Robert A. Heinlein. "Vega V" (its real name is unpronounceable by humans[note 2]) is the home planet of an interstellar "nanny" civilization assigned to covertly mentor humanity when the Three Galaxies Federation becomes aware of our existence. Protagonist Kip Russell has rehabilitated an old space suit that comes in quite handy when he gets involved in an interplanetary kidnapping scheme. He and fellow victim Peewee Reisfeld are abducted first to the Moon, and then to Pluto, where he is seriously injured in their escape. Peewee's companion, the Vegan "Mother Thing," takes Kip to Vega V to be healed, and later to a tribunal in the Lesser Magellanic Cloud (see graphic) where he represents the human race.
- Andromeda: A Space Age Tale (1959), English translation by George Hanna of the Russian language novel by Ivan Efremov. The Earth of the far future is a communist utopia, nonetheless able to send no more than a few infrequent space ships to the nearest star systems, since interstellar travel is limited by the speed of light. One of these near neighbors is Vega. The Earth expedition which reaches the Vega system finds it devoid of life. The Hour of the Bull (1968), the sequel to Andromeda, interestingly confronts its 'communist utopia' with a 'capitalist dystopia' in a structure similar to that subsequently used by Ursula K. Le Guin in The Dispossessed (1974).
- Agent of Vega (1960), fixup written by James H. Schmitz from stories originally appearing in Astounding Science Fiction. In the far future, humans are building the Confederacy of Vega to replace the fallen Empire of Earth. The new empire includes mutated humans as well as non-humans. The enemies of the Confederacy are also a mix of men (not to mention competent women) and aliens in a space opera setting that features Vega's Zone Agents. Conflict between the league and its adversaries involves both physical and telepathic weapons.
- Space Battle in the Vega Sector [Raumschlacht im Wega-Sektor ], Mutants in Action [Mutanten im Einsatz ], The Secret of the Time Vault [Das Geheimnis der Zeitgruft ], and The Fortress of the Six Moons [Die Festung der sechs Monde ] (1962), installments 10-13 of the Perry Rhodan series of space-opera pulp novelettes, written by Walter Ernsting as by Clark Darlton, by Karl-Herbert Scheer as by K. H. Scheer, and by Kurt Mahr. In these installments of the long-running English version of the [originally German] series, Rhodan comes to the aid of the inhabitants of Ferrol, one of Vega's 42 planets, who are enmeshed in a space war between the reptilian Topides and the decadent Arkonides. On Rofus (Vega IX), mutants help Perry gain control of a Topide battleship. His next exploit is to enter the Time Vault and discover the secrets of the methuselan inhabitants of Vega X. The battle against the Topides continues among the six moons of Vega XL, until finally Rhodan tricks his enemies into an "attack" on the Capella system in which they transit directly to the interior of the star itself.
- Demon Princes (1964–1981), series of five novels written by Jack Vance. In Vance's Oikumene universe, Vega is one of the three principal centers of human civilization (together with the Earth and Rigel). It has three uninhabitable inner planets and three habitable abecedarian planets:
- Padraic, Mona, and Noaille are cinders of scorched stone, baking in the austere glare of the Great White Star. Tidally locked Noaille is notable for its rains of liquid mercury which fall on the dark side and flow to the hot side where they vaporize, to return once again to the dark side.
- Aloysius. Its early history was dominated by rivalries between religious sects; the effects of the hatred and warfare persist to this day, especially in the countryside. The cities of Pontefract and New Wexford are galactic centers of finance and publishing—where Kirth Gersen runs his magazines Cosmopolis and Extant.
- Boniface. "[Its] oceans are bedeviled by awful storms, the land masses are notable for an extravagant topography: vast plains supine to the force of winds and rain; mountains, caves, crags, chasms; broad rivers flowing from sea to sea."
- Cuthbert. Called a "Bug-Hunter's Paradise", this humid and unpleasantly marshy world is but sparsely populated.
- This Immortal (1966). novel by Roger Zelazny. In this post-apocalyptic novel, Arts Commissioner Conrad Nomikos—who may or may not be immortal, and who may or may not be a god—assumes the irksome task of escorting a Vegan grandee around the ruins of Earth, which is a popular tourist destination for those among the blue-skinned aliens with a hankering for primal thrills. The masterfully manipulative "immortal" isn't the only one with secrets, however; the Vegan harbors dark secrets of his own, and Earth-liberation rebels are trying to kill him. "Conrad Nomikos ... resembles Herakles—whose labors the plot of he novel covertly replicates—but is certainly both the Hero of a Thousand Faces and the Trickster who mocks the high road of myth..."
- Procession (Korowód) (1971) In verse polish poet Leszek Aleksander Moczulski and in song Marek Grechuta, Vega is constellation where probably living people: "Who, looking down to the Earth from Vega constellation will guess?"
- Contact (1985), novel written by Carl Sagan with unacknowledged assistance from Ann Druyan (see also the film Contact below). SETI researchers detect a message from an extraterrestrial intelligence—a transmitter array (compare graphic) in orbit around the star Vega. As signal hunter Ellie Arroway breathlessly proclaims to a colleague over the telephone: "Yes, Vega is smack in the middle of the field of view. And we’re getting what looks like prime number pulses…" After an arduous decoding process, Ellie and her colleagues discover and implement the plans for a wormhole transport device that carries five explorers to the center of the galaxy. There they speak at length with supernal sentiences, but can bring back no proof of the contact—so that when they return home nobody believes their experiences.
- Hyperion (1989) and The Fall of Hyperion (1990), the first two novels in the Hyperion Cantos written by Dan Simmons. Martin Silenus, the Poet of the Hyperion tales, survives tortured formative years growing up in the ambit of the marginally effective Rifkin Atmospheric Protectorate on Heaven’s Gate, "a minor world circling the star Vega ... [a] poisonous world [with, however] a farcaster connection to Sol System ..." Too late for poor Martin, Heaven's gate is terraformed by the Hegemony of Man into an Edenic garden planet, and kept that way in the face of considerable difficulty thanks to its rich mineral resources—until the collapse of the farcaster network and the fall of the Hegemony. In the apocalypse, "...the worst has happened ... The Ousters are invading the Web. Heaven’s Gate is being destroyed ...". The once beautiful world is reverted by TechnoCore cybrids posing as Ousters into a smoldering slag heap.
- Diaspora (1997), novel by Greg Egan. The Diaspora in the novel consists of a collection of one thousand exact digital copies of the Carter-Zimmerman polis (city state), deployed toward stars in all directions in hopes of improving humankind's understanding of the physics behind an unpredicted gamma ray burst that wiped out most of Earth's inhabitants. Vega is one of the target stars, and a C-Z polis encounters alien life on one of its planets.
Film and television
- "The Cage" (1965; aired 1988), rejected pilot episode of Star Trek: The Original Series written by Gene Roddenberry and directed by Robert Butler, as part of the film, television, and print franchise originated by Gene Roddenberry. The USS Enterprise is traveling to Vega Colony to arrange care for casualties of the hostilities on Rigel VII, when it receives a distress transmission broadcast by a scientific expedition that has vanished on Talos IV. A landing party beams down; the Talosians capture Captain Christopher Pike and plan to breed him with Vina, an expedition survivor, to create a race of slaves. Cooler heads prevail.
- "Mirror, Mirror" (1967), episode of Star Trek: The Original Series written by Jerome Bixby and directed by Marc Daniels. This episode has a transporter mishap swapping Captain Kirk and his companions with their evil counterparts in a parallel universe. In the so-called Mirror Universe, the ISS Enterprise is a ship of the Terran Empire, a dominion as evil as the United Federation of Planets is benevolent. A horrified Kirk learns that his doppelgänger is guilty of multiple atrocities, including the massacre of 5000 human colonists on the planet Vega IX.
- UFO Robo Grendizer (1975–1977), anime television series written by Go Nagai and directed by Tomoharu Katsumata. The planet Vega having become uninhabitable due to an environmental catastrophe, the Vegans first attack the peaceful planet Fleed in their own system, destroying it in the process, and then set their sights on the Earth as a world to conquer and colonize. Young Duke Fleed, who survived the holocaust and has fled to Earth with the Vegan super-robot Grendizer, organizes the defense of our planet and defeats the Vegans and their evil king.
- "One Moment of Humanity" (1976), episode of the television series Space: 1999 written by Tony Barwick and directed by Charles Crichton. When the Moon intrudes into the sphere of influence of the planet Vega, a deputation of Vegans, beautiful to behold, arrives at Moonbase Alpha to remonstrate, and ends by kidnapping two Alphans to the Vega system—abetted by telepathic ensnarement and Positronic Transfer. It turns out that the Vegans are androids, Vega is an artificial paradise planet and a prison, and the Alphans are able to liberate a human population that has been enslaved by the robots (compare following item in this article).
- Commander Perkins: The Vega Series (1976–1978), German-produced audio drama series written by Hans Gerhard Franciskowsky as by H. G. Francis. Scientists on the Moon accidentally open a portal between the Solar System and the planet Vega VIII. A high-tech kidnapping to the Vega system—abetted by telepathic ensnarement and Dimensional Transmission—begins a complex unfolding of tit-for-tat moves by earthmen and the hostile Vegans, until finally the roots of their interstellar antipathy are traced to the unraveling of a long-ago alien expedition to the Biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (compare the wicked city SoGo in Tau Ceti: Barbarella).
- Spaceballs (1987), sendup of Star Wars and other science fiction film classics written by Mel Brooks et al and directed by Mel Brooks. The planet Spaceball having become uninhabitable due to an environmental catastrophe, President Skroob first attacks the peaceful planet Druidia in his own system by attempting to kidnap its princess, Vespa (compare UFO Robo Grendizer above). "Solo" operator Captain Lone Starr responds to the offer of a reward and rescues her but his plan is thwarted when he runs out of fuel and crash-lands on the nearby desert Moon of Vega. They find their way to a cave occupied by the wise old Yogurt (played by Brooks), who introduces Lone Starr to the power of "The Schwartz". The film proceeds in this vein.
- Babylon 5 (1993–1998), television series created by J. Michael Straczynski. The Vega Colony is an outpost world of the Earth Alliance in the Vega star system, which hosts at least six other planets. Vega Colony appears frequently in the series as a space voyage destination and as the location of a medical center; the ice mines on Vega VII were raided for their explosives by the mad bomber Robert Carlson.
- Contact (1997), film written by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan, and directed by Robert Zemeckis. (see also the novel Contact above). SETI researchers detect a message from an extraterrestrial intelligence—a transmitter array orbiting Vega (compare graphic). After an arduous decoding process, they first discover, then finance (Panel member: If you were to meet these Vegans, and were permitted only one question to ask of them, what would it be?) and finally implement the plans for a wormhole transport device that carries a single explorer (Ellie, played by Jodie Foster) to the center of the galaxy. There she speaks at length with a supernal sentience who manifests itself as her departed father, but she can bring back no proof of the contact—so that when she returns home few people believe her experiences actually happened.
- Omega Men (1981- ), DC Comics superhero series created by Marv Wolfman and Joe Staton. Interstellar war rages in the Vega star system. The planet Tamaran, home of the enslaved Princess Koriand'r of the Teen Titans and her captor and renegade sister Komand'r, is destroyed in the fighting. The planet Rann, formerly orbiting Alpha Centauri (compare Alpha Centauri: Cybertron) and briefly orbiting Polaris (compare Polaris: Odym) is given a new home occupying the Vegan orbit once followed by Tamaran.
- Green Lantern (1940- ), DC Comics superhero series created by Bill Finger and Martin Nodell. The Green Lantern Corps does not have jurisdiction in the Vega star system due to a treaty between the Guardians of the Universe and Agent Orange. However, one of the new laws of the Green Lantern Corps lifts that restriction.
- Traveller (1977), role-playing game designed by Marc Miller and published by GDW. In this wide-ranging game the players' skills, tasks, gear, ships, and worlds are all built from tables using dice as a randomizing element. The worlds display a wide spectrum of conditions, from barren planetoid moons to large water worlds, from uncolonized territory to planets with tens of billions of people. The Vegan system governs an autonomous region within the Imperium several parsecs in radius, centered on the star Vega.
- Portal (1986), interactive novel written by Rob Swigart and produced by Brad Fregger. The player, in the role of the astronaut protagonist, returns from a failed 100 year voyage to 61 Cygni to find the Earth depopulated. Cars are rusted and covered with moss, buildings are crumbling and overgrown, the streets are strewn with debris, and the human race has utterly vanished (see graphic). The player happens upon a barely functioning computer terminal and begins playing the game, piecing together fragments of information, until he discovers the secret: a mass human migration in great ships powered by the "axion" drive, through a hyperspace portal to the Realm of Vega 26 light-years away. Mankind is waiting to return...
- Wing Commander (1990), computer game designed by Chris Roberts and published by Origin Systems. The player takes the role of a nameless pilot aboard the TCS Tiger's Claw, a Bengal-class Strike Carrier. He quickly rises through the ranks of the flight wing, and eventually leads a strike on the Kilrathi High Command starbase in the Venice system. This action is called the Vega Campaign, since it all takes place in a region of the galaxy known as the Vega Sector whose "sector star" is Vega.
- Frontier: Elite II (1993) and Frontier: First Encounters (1995), computer games written by David Braben et al. The Vega system is one of the biggest tourist traps in the Federation thanks to its jungle planet Tracy's Haven, famous for dramatic scenery and dangerous wildlife. While it is a politically stable system, Vega nonetheless maintains a laissez faire policy towards contraband: Goods banned elsewhere (such as live animals and weapons) find a lively market here, with the only proscribed lines of business being slaves, narcotics, and nerve gas.
- Escape Velocity (1996), computer game by Ambrosia Software. The Vega System is the site of a major fuel refinery.
- FreeSpace 2 (1999), combat simulation computer game designed by Dave Baranec et al, and published by Volition, Inc. When the brutal Shivans invade, the Terrans join with their erstwhile rivals the Vasudans to form the Terran Vasudan Alliance (ratified by the Beta Aquilae Convention). Vega starts out as a Terran colony, but is an early victim of the first Shivan invasion—requiring that the node connecting it to Capella be collapsed as a defensive measure.
- Escape Velocity Nova (2002), computer game developed and published by Ambrosia Software. The Vega System contains the planet Las Vegas. Unlike its terrestrial namesake, the planet is conservative and austere.
- Pirate Galaxy (2009), MMOG developed by Gustaf Stechmann and published by Splitscreen Studios. Players operate spaceships, explore various planets, mine minerals from orbit, and fight other players and computer enemies in planetary combat. The first-time player starts off on the nearly forgotten planet Kalebesh in the Vega system as a smuggler, learning the rudiments of the game and getting his first missions, which eventually lead him to the world Axiom. When the player proves his mettle, he proceeds via stargate to the Antares system where he pursues bigger and better adventures.
Vega is referred to as a location in space or the center of a planetary system unusually often in fiction. For a list containing many stars and planetary systems that have a less extensive list of references, see Stars and planetary systems in fiction.
Notes and references
- Vega rotates with a period of about 12.5 hours, which is 87.6% of the speed that would cause the star to start breaking up from centrifugal effects.
- Peewee explains the name: "They call it—" She threw back her head and vocalized; it recalled to me the cockcrow theme in Le Coq d’Or. "but I couldn’t say that. So I told you Vega, which is close enough."
- Peterson, D M et al. (1999), Vega is a rapidly rotating star, Nature 440 (7086): 896–899, arXiv:astro-ph/0603520, Bibcode:2006Natur.440..896P, doi:10.1038/nature04661, PMID 16612375
- Yoon, Jinmi et al. (January 2010), A New View of Vega's Composition, Mass, and Age, The Astrophysical Journal 708 (1): 71–79, Bibcode:2010ApJ...708...71Y, doi:10.1088/0004-637X/708/1/71
- Gulliver, Austin F; Hill, Graham; Adelman, Saul J (1994), Vega: A rapidly rotating pole-on star, The Astrophysical Journal 429 (2): L81–L84, Bibcode:1994ApJ...429L..81G, doi:10.1086/187418
- Su, K Y L et al. (2005), The Vega Debris Disk: A Surprise from Spitzer, The Astrophysical Journal 628 (1): 487–500, arXiv:astro-ph/0504086, Bibcode:2005ApJ...628..487S, doi:10.1086/430819
- Wyatt, M (2002), Resonant Trapping of Planetesimals by Planet Migration: Debris Disk Clumps and Vega's Similarity to the Solar System, The Astrophysical Journal 598 (2): 1321–1340, arXiv:astro-ph/0308253, Bibcode:2003ApJ...598.1321W, doi:10.1086/379064
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