In all of the Star Trek episodes that have battles, the photon torpedo glows a bright rotating red when fired from the ship before it hits its target.

Pictures of a torpedo show that it's just a containment of a bomb being fired like a missile from our time period. What happens to that casing when it's fired? is it still part of the torpedo, or was it shot off during the exit hatch?

Is the glowing red ball the actual bomb that was in the casing?

  • In the original TOS episodes, the photon torpedoes were white.
    – BBlake
    Mar 23, 2012 at 12:13

2 Answers 2


I could not find any canon references, but it is worth noting that federation impulse engines emit red light when in operation. We could assume that photon torpedoes are equipped with an mini impulse drive because they can be programmed with a course or to track a target (as far as I know they don't have a warp drive -- only the ability to sustain the warp bubble imparted by the launching vessel).

The rotation could be a result of the torpedo rotating on its axis for stabilization.

  • I like this answer, but I'm left wondering if the red is due to the impulse propulsion, then what propels quantum torpedoes as they are blue/white when fired.
    – BBlake
    Mar 23, 2012 at 12:16
  • @BBlake According to Memory Alpha: "Propulsion system of the quantum torpedo is a warp sustainer engine and four microfusion thrusters." en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/Quantum_torpedo
    – Iszi
    Mar 23, 2012 at 12:54
  • 1
    @BBlake For comparison, photon torpedoes only have the warp sustainer engine. There's no mention of any additional thrusters - not even impulse drives. en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/…
    – Iszi
    Mar 23, 2012 at 13:00
  • @BBlake Maybe they add different chemicals to the thrusters to change the color of the reaction, so that bystanders like us can tell what weapons are being used.
    – Xantec
    Mar 23, 2012 at 13:01
  • 1
    Memory-alpha for photon torpedoes seems to support the idea that the red comes from propulsion with this: 'Torpedoes could also be deployed like mines. When released as mines, the torpedoes did not glow in any way. ... (VOY: "Year of Hell", "Dark Frontier", "Child's Play")' (emphasis mine)
    – Plutor
    Mar 23, 2012 at 13:08

Quote from StarTrek.com:

Self-propelled missiles consisting of a small quantity of matter and antimatter bound together in a magnetic container, used as a tactical weapon by Federation starships.

Quote from memory-alpha:

The Making of Star Trek gave this description of the photon torpedo: "...photon torpedoes, which are energy pods of matter and anti-matter contained and held temporarily separated in a magno-photon force field. These can be used as torpedoes or depth charges, and can be set with electrochemical, proximity, and a variety of other fuses. Photon torpedoes can be fired directly at a target, laid out as a minefield, or scattered in an attacker's path as depth charges.

Photon torpedoes also have a detonator which can be activated remotely to abort the impact.

Photon torpedoes were different in color and use i the Star Trek series.

Quote from Wiki:

When fired, photon torpedoes usually appear as a spiky ball of energy of varying colours, such as red, orange, yellow, blue, or green.

TOS photon torpedoes look like this:

enter image description here

This can be called purple, or white if you will.

In the movie, photon torpedo were blue in color.

From the movie from 2009:

The earliest use of photon torpedoes by a Starfleet vessel however occurred in Star Trek, when the USS Kelvin defended itself from torpedoes fired by the Narada with phasers and photon torpedoes in a scene set in the year 2233. The blue bolts were not identified in the dialogue of the film, but were identified in the script as photons.

enter image description here

So they varied over the years, as some kind of globes of plasma or different energy. If I remember correctly, the Klingon photon torpedoes were green in color. The TNG, Voyager era torpedoes are reddish-orange in color.

I thought that it would be good to mention, that the sound of a photon torpedo was duplicated from an old movie.

From memory-alpha:

The sound of photon torpedoes firing was that of the disintegration ray from the original The War of the Worlds.

The glow can be explained by the shields, surrounding the torpedoes. Also, every torpedo has a warp sustainer engine attached to it, which can further explain it's glow and color.

There is a theory that all photon torpedoes are black, and thus are hard to spot in the dark matter of space - which leaves the engine coils visible. Although debatable, this is probably not true, and I'll just leave it at that.

The color can also be due to the frequency of the shield at launch.

But, what is the real cause of the glow and color?

The photon torpedo consists of 1.5kg of antimatter and 1.5kg of (conventional) matter, which makes it 3kg of matter. It's coil is hot, which results in the glow effect. The hotter the coil the brighter the glow. It may explain some of it's color. The photon torpedo also emits gases (ex. deuterium gas), which cause some of the coloring. Depending on which structure is used, the color is formed.

Deuterium discharge tube (from real life): enter image description here

One more effect of this is the radiation, which depends on the casing composition that stores all of this massive energy. This massive energy may be emitted by gamma rays and exotic particles. It reacts differently to various material reactions during the launch inside the casing, thus another way to impact the color.

The casing: enter image description here enter image description here

The rotation can be explained as the rotation of any projectile.

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