What is beyond Orion?

Those words were unnatural, they seemed like exits from an opera that had nothing to do with the rest of the script. There was something about them that squeaked and Rutger Hauer had promised to find and eliminate him. That is exactly what he was doing the night before filming, pruning a text that was not his, without suspecting that he would go down in history for it:

They are barely a handful of letters, but they have been burned in the memory of millions of spectators. The redeeming words of a dying man who tastes more than ever the value of his own life. The line that finishes blurring the border between the replicants and us, making them more human than humans. It is they who have just shaped Roy Batty and in a way, responsible for Blade Runner being an icon of the cinema.

And yet, as evocative as the date may be, nobody understands it. What are the "Tannhäuser Gate and the" C-rays "? It is surprising that such empty lines can fill us so much, because none of this exists in reality or in the fiction of Philip K. Dick and Ridley Scott. Although, the truth is that there could be a pinch of truth in the words of the replicant. The constellation of Orion is real, but what is beyond it?

The constellation of Orion

It is very likely that, looking at the night sky, you have ever seen a trio of very bright and perfectly aligned stars. In fact, they are so striking that they can be seen even in some large cities, so, if you live in the northern hemisphere and are reading this on a winter night, I advise you to stop reading and go out and look for them. This asterism is the Orion belt and from it it is easy to find the rest of the constellation. If we imagine that the belt is the center of an hourglass we will only have to look for its two upper corners, moving towards the north and two other stars in the south direction, forming its base. However, it is difficult to know what Roy means by "beyond Orion," because in a way, Orion only exists in our mind.

The constellations have helped us to orientate ourselves at night and have inspired overwhelming stories, however, they are only constructions that we have created by joining especially striking stars, but which are not usually related in any other way. In fact, while some of Orion's stars are relatively close to us, such as G 99-49 at just 17.2 light years, others of the objects that form it are almost 100 times farther away, such as the M78 nebula. So what does it mean to be "beyond Orion"? We could be years exploring the infinite back garden of each of the astronomical objects that make up Orion, but it is possible that the answer we are looking for is hidden elsewhere, specifically in the original version of the blessed phrase.

On the shoulder of Orion

What Roy said in English was slightly different. The ships he attacked were not on fire "beyond Orion" but "on the shoulder of Orion." A slight difference that changes everything, because Orion is the constellation of the hunter, an armed giant with two stars on his shoulders. His left shoulder (on our right) corresponds to the blue giant Bellatrix, the Amazon star. So bright that its bluish color can be distinguished even with the naked eye. However, the one that interests us is his right shoulder sister, Betelgeuse.

Betelgeuse is even bigger than Bellatrix, a red supergiant. Its radius is equivalent (according to some studies) to about 5 times the distance between the Sun and Earth. It is so huge that if we replaced it with our star king it would engulf Jupiter, but the size is not the most surprising thing about Betelgeuse. His story is strange because he was ejected from the place where he was born. It is what is known as a "runaway star" that crosses the interstellar medium especially fast. Somehow he remembers Roy himself, because both he and Betelgeuse have spent their lives running away.

A life that has been short for a star and promises to end soon. Betelgeuse is barely 8.5 billion years old, and experts estimate that there are no more than 100,000 left to die as a supernova. Some calculations are more conservative and suggest that it may survive 1 million more years. It figures that, for a star, it is still quite short, just one hundredth of what one lives as our Sun, something that reminds us of the words of the creator of the replicants.

A runaway star, with a fleeting life and whose death will be so bright that it will compete with the Moon for months, looking in the middle of the day and casting shadows in the darkness of the night. We can suspect that the parallelism between Betelgeuse and Roy Batty is more than pure chance, that naming "the shoulder of Orion" in his monologue closed an almost perfect analogy, but it would be forced speculation. Because yes, I have brought you here through asterisms and giant stars to tell you what you already suspected, that there is nothing beyond Orion and that one of the most beautiful phrases in cinema has everything you could ask for less meaning. But I have done it for a reason, to show you how something can be beautiful for what it conveys, without having to look for twisted interpretations or justification. There are things that simply deserve to be, like this quote or like science itself.

The knowledge for the knowledge

We live in a finalist society where it seems that every little detail has to help us achieve our goals. However, it has not always been this way. Other cultures, as in classical Greece, have valued knowing regardless of how it could be applied to our lives. There is a pleasure in one's own knowledge, in discovering something new like someone exploring an indomitable jungle. Now, however, any scientific discovery attracts the most impertinent of the coleillas: And what is that for?

In both scientific articles and the press, researchers are forced to twist their conclusions to find possible applications to their discoveries. Reinterpretations that sometimes surpass the fantasy that Betelgeuse deliberately symbolizes Roy Batty. Logical pirouettes that cloud the beauty behind them, knowledge by pure knowledge. Watching a sunset is overwhelming, but it is even more so when you understand that this huge orange sphere is maintaining a constant pulse between the gravity that constrains it and its nuclear reactions struggling to expand it. It is a second layer of wonder that nothing detracts from the obvious beauty, but complements it.

The beauty of science is not easy to see, you have to get used to it, as well as strong flavors. But it catches who gives it a chance, because after all, it responds to one of our most fundamental essences. Science only tries to find the same answers as the rest of us: where do I come from ?, where am I going ?, how much time do I have left?


  • Science must seek to be objective and rigorous, but that does not make it contrary to letters.
  • Some media predict that Betelgeuse will become a supernova much earlier than expected, but they seem to be based on a misinterpretation of changes in its brightness that have already happened other times. In fact, it is a so-called variable star, that is: its brightness changes periodically following a few cycles. And it is likely that the minimum moments of several of these periods are coinciding.



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