In “Game of Thrones”, fans have experienced a lot of unlikely things. We won’t get into the details of who dies and who doesn’t, but suffice it to say that no major character appears safe. And sometimes people seem to survive by magic alone, such as the infamous event that led to three young dragons hatching when their eggs were baked in a funeral pyre.

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But is there an astronomy story lurking somewhere amid the magic and the dragons and the “Winter Is Coming” proclamations? David Beers thinks so. The co-founder of Brimstone Audio (a guitar effects company) is a lifelong fan of reading fantasy books. He started reading and re-reading GoT shortly before the television series began in 2011. But it was only in the last four months that he saw astronomy connections.

Beers’ theory is lengthy (you can see it in detail at the bottom of this page), but this is what it says in a nutshell: about 10,000 years before the events of “Game of Thrones” began, a large comet whizzed by the planet and was torn apart by the planet’s gravity. One of the pieces struck one of the planet’s two moons, which blew the moon up. Then, debris from the collision fell onto the planet and caused an event that GoT fans know as the “Long Night”, when the Others (ice demons) nearly killed everyone. The other half of the comet, Beers believes, passes near the world as “The Red Comet” (which is repeatedly referred to as a sort of omen for part of the series).

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“This entire celestial story has been cleverly hidden inside the myths and legends that appear in the books — one story is about a moon getting too close to the sun, cracking, and pouring forth dragons into the world,” he told Discovery News. “The dragons in this case are the the flaming meteors falling into the atmosphere after the moon was destroyed.”

To learn more about how plausible this is, Discovery News reached out to Russell Deitrick, a graduate student at the University of Washington who previously spoke about GoT, planets and astronomy at a neighborhood event called Astronomy on Tap. Deitrick pointed out that as cosmic collisions go, it’s pretty unlikely that a comet would have the force to destroy a moon (it’s a small object crashing into a very big one). And from a celestial dynamics perspective, it’s unlikely that the remaining comet fragment would come back to nearly exactly the same spot.

But other parts of the theory could be explained astronomically. For example, the “Long Night” sounds similar to the situation that occurred when a large object (such as a comet or meteorite) presumably crashed into the Earth about 65 million years ago, wiping out the dinosaurs. In the case of the generation-long Long Night, since the dust would only persist for a few years, he says perhaps the large impacts were spread out over several years and there were several shorter winters afterwards.

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“Debris from the moon and comet would have impacted the surface of the planet as meteorites. Presumably, at least a few of these meteorites would have been large in size (very small meteorites burn up in the atmosphere),” he wrote in an e-mail to Discovery News.

“These larger impacts can have devastating climatic effects — first heating the atmosphere, causing wide-spread forest fires, and kicking dust, aerosols, and soot (from the fires) up into the atmosphere and sort of ‘blacking out the sky’, reflecting sunlight and causing long periods (years or so) of global cooling—analogous to nuclear/volcanic winter.”

Catastrophic collisions do happen in the solar system from time to time. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

And could these impacts also explain the long winters in GoT? Deitrick is skeptical, as the crashes would come at random times. And in the story, the characters seem to believe that a long summer is followed by a long winter, which implies something more regular may be at play. (This topic was in fact covered in an April Fool’s essay on prepublishing site Arxiv a few years ago.)

Deitrick added that one of the strengths of GoT is its ability to get readers interested in subjects that they may not have considered. And among the astronomical theories he has read, that of Beers stands out.

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“This is one of the most interesting theories I’ve seen on the astronomical origins of GoT’s events and certainly the most meticulous,” he wrote. “I admire David’s attention to detail and his ability to find connections between the text and real world mythology and symbols (although, I have no idea if George R. R. Martin actually intended to draw such parallels or not).”

Beers added that from his perspective, Martin is cleverly creating his own mythology. In fact, mythology was how Beers got interested in astronomy (from an amateur perspective) in the first place. He’s now doing a careful re-reading of the series to parse all the astronomy metaphors he can, which he will share on fan forums as he learns more.

You can read more about Beers’ theories in these Westeros.org forum pages:

  • http://asoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/topic/125669-the-astronomy-behind-the-legends-of-planetos/

  • http://asoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/topic/125901-astronomy-of-planetos-ii-the-bloodstone-compendium/

  • http://asoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/topic/127025-astronomy-of-planetos-fingerprints-of-the-dawn/

  • http://asoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/topic/129106-astronomy-of-planetos-children-of-the-dawn-part-one/