Roswell rants: Barnard’s Star (Slight spoilers for late season 2)

We love Roswell, but there’s also a lot about the show that frustrates or upset us. “Roswell Rants” is an occasional feature on the blog where we vent or complain about one of these. Today I’m talking about a little bit of dialog from the late season 2 episode: “It’s Too Late and It’s Too Bad.”

And once again, I’m going to nitpick bad astronomy here.

In that episode, Tess takes Max to the observatory and shows him a star in a telescope. She tells him that it’s Barnard’s Star and that it can be seen from their alien homeworld. This fits in with the plotline where Tess and Max are becoming closer.

Now, Barnard’s Star is real. It’s one of the closest stars to Earth, next after the Sun and the three stars in the Alpha Centauri system. And it’s a very small, dim red dwarf–so that even though it’s in our backyard, you can’t see it without some kind of magnification.

This makes Tess’ claim somewhat ridiculous. It would be like pointing to something completely mundane and routine next door–a shrub or a tool shed?–and stating that you could see it from your old house as well. Yes, that might be literally true, but there would be more impressive stars that Tess could have pointed out in that case. Sirius, for example, is the brightest star in our sky and only a few light-years further away than Barnard’s Star. It would certainly be bright and prominent from any planet where you could spot Barnard’s Star.

And this completely contradicts the other hints we have that the alien homeworld is very far away, possibly even in the whirlpool galaxy.

Aside from these factual details, the scene works very well–so what exactly did the writers intend with this line? Were they intending a star name that would be well-known or obscure, that would be relatively near or far away? In any of those cases I think it would be possible to find a star which fits the criteria which would also be absolutely very bright. Or possibly it would make the scene more effective to drop the “You can see that star from home” aspect and have Tess point out a bright star that’s in the same direction as their homeworld.

Now, there’s one possible rationale where picking Barnard’s Star for this dialog makes sense–it could be a signal to savvy fans that Tess is “full of it” and saying something she knows is probably wrong just because she thinks that it would impress Max. But to me, this interpretation cheapens Tess’ character. Since she names an actual star, she has to have found the name from somewhere, and wherever she might have found it, the first two bullet points she might have found out would have been enough to make it clear that this is about the least credible star in the sky that she could name.

Whatever you might say about Tess Harding, she’s smarter than that.

Chris K.

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