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In the Star Trek universe the Federation seems to encompass a lot more (habitable) systems than the Romulan and Klingon empires relative to its size. Was this ever explained in the show?

map of the Star Trek galaxy

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What's the deal with the Roman numerals? They don't seem to be related to the four galactic quadrants. – tmh Jan 6 at 10:32
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Looking at the map, I think there are many, many systems in the other unions/empires that are just not shown. There is no reason to assume that the density of inhabited systems changes with borders. – Raphael Jan 6 at 11:46
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@tmh - It's a multi-page picture that's been stitched together using photoshop. The numerals are the page numbers from the book. – Valorum Jan 6 at 11:53
    
@Raphael The distribution of stars is not uniform. The density of solar systems in the mikly way decreases from the center out to the edge. This gradient could be perceptible on such a map. Moreover, since the mikly way is a spiral galaxy with four arms it could be argued that the Federation space is aligned with one of the arms of the galaxy. Which could account for the difference, but AFAIK this is never addressed in the show – djf Jan 6 at 12:01
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@djf: Given the scale of the map (bottom right), the map does cover less than 300 ly. (Damn, inhabited space in Elite: Dangerous is larger than that...) Heck, even "known space" (upper right) is less than 1500 ly across. Given the radius of the Milky Way at ~50000 ly, I find it hard to believe that star density gradients are at work here. More likely, there are many more stars in Romulan / Klingon space that "we" (Federation) just have never heard of, since "we" aren't allowed to fly around there charting out systems. – DevSolar Jan 6 at 12:34
up vote 31 down vote accepted

One possible explanation is that the Federation is much more diverse in regard to member species and the the rights (for colonization) that these members have. That way the range of planets that are inhabitable is much wider.

The Klingon Empire, the Romulan Star Empire and the Cardasian Union are practically single-species empires. Any other species are second-class citizens at best and slaves at worst.

So the Federation has following advantages when it comes to colonization:

  • Citizens are free to colonize planets without species restrictions
  • Some planets that would be not appropriate to the "main" species (humans?) can still be colonized. For example a planet that has average temperature of 0 °C will be still OK for some species that evolved on such a planet. Humans on the other side will feel quite uncomfortable there.
  • (as noted by Richard) When a new member joins the Federation, they usually have already done exploration of the area around them and they contribute this knowledge. The other empires expand by either aggressive colonization or conquest. In both there is none or little exploration data to be collected and much less people from the conquered species are ready to cooperate in colonization efforts.In the example with Bajor - the Cardasians had to fight constantly with the underground resistance and this consumed their resources - resources that could have been spent on colonization.
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Exactly. There are a lot of star systems in even what would look like a very small area on a galactic map, so it really is how quickly/efficiently/thoroughly you explore and colonize that determines how many planets you have, not how big an area of space you control. – Harry Johnston Jan 7 at 2:17
    
@HarryJohnston ... and how quickly you can plant the flags. As we've seen in Insurrection, the Federation considers all the star systems in their "volume of space" to be their property, regardless of whether those systems actually joined the Federation, and regardless of whether they get any representation. Even when (as in Insurrection) they haven't even explored the system in question. – Luaan Jan 7 at 7:32

Who created the map (in-universe)? Note that it is labelled "United Federation of Planets".

In reality, maps tend to be creator-centric, with many biases towards their own region. Especially, if the map is for a region, the surrounding area may be shown in less detail to make it easier to see the detail in the "important" region.

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The map was created by Geoffrey Mandel for the book Star Trek Star Charts – Valorum Jan 6 at 9:52
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Ah, yes - I was implying more of an in-universe "creator"... – HorusKol Jan 6 at 22:24
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As far as I'm aware, this map is created from the position of an omniscient map-maker. It shows details that aren't known to any of the races we see on screen, except the various godlikes. – Valorum Jan 6 at 22:38
    
Point still stands, I think, because most Trekkies are more interested in the Federation than anything else. – Mr. Bultitude Jan 6 at 23:15

The Federation is inclusive by its very nature. It's friendly. It wants people to join the club. That in itself goes a long way towards explaining its huge territory.

By contrast, the Romulans are isolationists and the Klingons expand via conquest, which is a lot harder than smiling at someone and inviting them to come over for peace and biscuits.

As for the planet density within Federation space, that's almost certainly down to audience bias and intelligence considerations. In how much detail do you suspect the TNG-era Federation knows the "geography" of the Romulan Star Empire? And why would the TNG-era Federation internally distribute well-detailed maps of Klingon space? Nobody's going to be hopping on a transport there to get to work each day.

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