As can be seen in the below maps of the galaxy, the Federation is split across the Alpha and Beta Quadrants.

Galactic map

Another map can be seen here

My question is, out-of-universe, why was the Federation split across two quadrants? Is there any particular significant reason why this was done? It just seems to me that it would be 'neater' to have the Federation situated in a single quadrant.

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    I fail to understand the downvotes for the question and answer! The answer completely addresses the question posed!! – Often Right Sep 10 '15 at 3:06
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    I think this is a good question, and I'm not sure I understand the downvotes. It does seem like it would be "neater" to compartmentalize the powers into respective quadrants. On the other hand, having the Federation stretching into the Beta Quadrant is a good visual cue towards the friction between the Federation and the Klingon and Romulan empires. I'd put that as part of a speculative answer if it were not for the Encyclopedia entry that you cited. :-) – Praxis Sep 10 '15 at 3:27
  • And I never knew that Vulcan was in the Beta Quadrant! How canonical is that map? – Praxis Sep 10 '15 at 3:28
  • @Praxis it was some map I found of the galaxy somewhere. I'm pretty sure it's not too far off the mark though... – Often Right Sep 10 '15 at 3:29
  • @Praxis apparently Vulcan is 16 light years from Earth and, considering Earth is near the border that is certainly possible – Often Right Sep 10 '15 at 3:32

There is a reason, but not a particularly significant one

According to the Star Trek Encyclopedia, it comes down to a single mildly important line from Wrath of Khan (emphasis mine):

KIRK (OC): I told Starfleet all we had was a boatload of children but ...we're the only ship in the Quadrant. Spock, these cadets of yours, how good are they? How will they respond under real pressure?

Now, according to the Encyclopedia, under the entry for 'Alpha Quadrant', it states:

The reason for splitting the Federation between Alpha and Beta Quadrants was to rationalize Kirk's line in Star Trek II that the Enterprise was the only starship in the quadrant.

Memory Alpha also cites this as the reason. That page also acknowledges that the use of the term 'quadrant' is used quite loosely throughout TNG to refer to minor and major quadrants; in this instance it seems that the writers chose to assume that Kirk was referring to the major quadrant.

Interestingly enough though, Memory Alpha makes the point that

according to the Encyclopedia, Earth marks the border between Alpha and Beta Quadrants. The display graphic on a PADD in Star Trek: Insurrection would seem to confirm this.

Indeed, looking at the galactic map in the question, it shows Earth to be on the border. Unfortunately the version of the Encyclopedia which I have at the moment doesn't mention this under the 'Earth' entry - presumably because, at the time of publishing, the last source have been released was Star Trek: First Contact which was of course before Insurrection

Importantly though, the same paragraph also notes that

Dialogue in Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine however firmly establish that Earth is located on the Alpha Quadrant side of the border.

Although it's probably near the border, but moreso on the Alpha Quadrant side.

  • Can't understand the downvotes for the answer. The question, yeah I get some people don't like self-Q&As, but the answer completely addresses the question! – Often Right Sep 10 '15 at 5:08
  • Whether their sensors are good enough to tell whether they're the only ship in the ENTIRE QUADRANT OF THE GALAXY is another matter... – gowenfawr Sep 10 '15 at 11:13
  • @gowenfawr Starfleet's sensors probably could tell the location of their own ships - nobody said the Enterprise had sensors that good! – Often Right Sep 10 '15 at 11:32
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    I'm not sure it would be a matter of sensors, and "only ship in the Quadrant" is probably a statement about Starfleet vessels only. Starfleet likely knows the location of each ship in the fleet at a given moment, perhaps with a short lag (a ship will probably automatically report its location via a subspace "ping" to a central receiving station at Starfleet Command) and then this data is transferred back to the fleet, so that each ship knows where the other ships are. This is probably how they decide which ship has precedence for responding to a distress call. – Praxis Sep 10 '15 at 14:35

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