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Within the context of both Battlestar Galactica stories, Kobol is the birthplace and original home of humanity, from which the civilization departed and formed the Twelve Colonies on other worlds. According to legend, there was also a thirteenth tribe who settled on a "lost" colony, a planet called Earth, whose location remained a mystery to the populations of the other twelve.
As depicted in the original Battlestar Galactica series (1978–79), particularly the series episode "Lost Planet of the Gods", Kobol orbits an irregular variable star, and its encompassing system of planets lies immediately adjacent to a "magnetic void". The people of Kobol developed space-faring technology, and within the story it is suggested that their population likely reached the limits inherent in occupying a single planet, and, coupled with other disasters or factors (such as the star around which Kobol revolves), motivated humans to leave the planet. Eden was the name of a city on the planet, and, according to Commander Adama (Lorne Greene), was "the first to fall" to some unknown cataclysm.
In scenes that were filmed, but deleted from the final broadcast of the episodes, Captain Apollo explains that in its final days, Kobol was stricken with terrible overpopulation and waste. The surface and atmosphere of the planet were in fact so polluted that only the absolute strongest of creatures could still survive. After the human inhabitants of Kobol fled the planet and founded the colonies, they deliberately destroyed all of their technology and spacecraft; it took several centuries to rebuild even the most primitive ships for exploring the stars. The scene where this dialogue takes place was filmed for the episode "Lost Planet of the Gods", but only appears onscreen in the expanded telemovie version (it was edited out of the original airing).
Also unexplained is the culture of then-Kobolian society and its division into thirteen distinct tribal cultures. Twelve of these groups traveled through the magnetic void and eventually settled a group of habitable planets in a common stellar system. These settlements became the colonies depicted in the series, known collectively as the Twelve Colonies of Man. For some unexplained reason, the thirteenth tribe presumably traveled a greater distance and in another direction, settling on Earth. At the time the original series began, there had been no contact between the thirteenth tribe and the Twelve Colonies. As the centuries pass, the people of the Twelve Colonies generally considered the existence of Earth and the thirteenth tribe a myth.
Kobol is rediscovered in the aforementioned "Lost Planet of the Gods", which depicts at least part of the planet as being a desert, with ruins similar (or possibly identical) to the Egyptian Pyramids of Giza; parts of the episode were filmed on location at Giza.
As depicted in the reimagined Battlestar Galactica television series, Kobol appears to be a lush Earth-like planet with high mountains and dense forests. The details of its star system, however, have not been discussed. In contrast to the original series, Kobol's ruins appear to be more Greco-Roman analogous than Egyptian. In the final episode of the series, it is revealed that Kobol is one of two planets on which humans possibly evolved naturally (the other planet being our Earth).
Kobol has much of the same mythology of the original series. The thirteenth tribe is noted to have settled on a planet they named "Earth", and there has been no contact between it and the other tribes, which are known as "The Twelve Tribes of Kobol". It is later revealed that the thirteenth tribe is composed entirely of Cylons, meaning that the humans of Kobol had created the original humanoid Cylon race, the "Final Five" being the only apparent survivors of that race. The Cylon resurrection technology is also a rebuilt technology that existed on Kobol before its destruction.
Galactica discovers Kobol, but when it sends a survey team to its surface, their Colonial Raptor is shot down by a squadron of Cylon Raiders dispatched by a Basestar orbiting the planet. Galactica manages to destroy the Basestar, but there is evidence of a Cylon presence on the planet surface.
According to Colonial scriptures, humans lived on Kobol with their gods, the Lords of Kobol. An unspecified conflict spurred the humans of the time to flee Kobol on board the Galleon in the face of "The Blaze". It was said that for any who return, Kobol would exact a price paid in blood.
Kobol is the location of the Tomb of Athena, located near the Gates of Hera. An ancient relic, the Arrow of Apollo, was required to gain entry to the temple ruin in which it is said clues could be found to finding the way to the thirteenth colony, Earth. Within the Tomb were statues representing each of the Twelve Tribes. When the arrow was placed on the statue representing Sagittarius, the location of Earth was revealed. Earth can see the twelve zodiac constellations which were imprinted on the original flags of the Twelve Colonies. Also, the Colonials recognized in the map a nebula that is visible to Earth; in reality, the Lagoon Nebula.
The Kobol opera house and forum, though a ruin in Galactica's time, was apparently once an important civic building on the planet. Five characters, human and Cylon, have experienced visions of the opera house in its original state thousands of years ago, the visions focusing on Hera Agathon or the final five Cylons.
Kobol is the final destination and win condition of the first edition of the Battlestar Galactica board game. In the board game the human fleet is said to be safe upon reaching this destination and then leaving, although there is no reason given for this being the case. The Pegasus expansion for the game removes Kobol as a destination, substituting a new game phase involving New Caprica. The Exodus expansion offers the Ionian Nebula as the game-winning destination.