I hear the term Quadrant get used to describe how the galaxy is divided up so I am wondering if the division of our galaxy into quadrants was actually coined first in Star Trek or if it was something that existed beforehand?

If it was invented in Star Trek then who invented the term? Humans? Vulcans who taught humans it after first contact? How is it species in the Delta Quadrant like the Kazon know of this if it's a Federation term?

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    "Delta quadrant" is the closest translation the universal translator can provide for whatever the Kazon are really saying.
    – chepner
    Commented Oct 27, 2016 at 14:03
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    Since the line between the Alpha and Beta Quadrants runs directly through the Earth's solar system, I feel safe in saying that the system was probably designed by a Human. Commented Oct 27, 2016 at 16:29
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    @chepner: Of all the magic things that the UT does, I continue to find this one of the most impressive. The UT knows how every species maps and subdivides the galaxy! Awesome sauce. Commented Oct 27, 2016 at 16:42
  • Well, that's why I said "closest" :) I read somewhere long ago that the UT basically maps brainwaves from the speaker (never mind how it works in anything other than face-to-face communication, and never mind that the underlying neurology of speech has to be the same in every species), so I assume a reference to any large-enough region of space gets mapped to the appropriate "quadrant" in English.
    – chepner
    Commented Oct 27, 2016 at 16:54
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    Asked on ELU, this would've been closed for lack of research.
    – Mazura
    Commented Oct 28, 2016 at 2:08

5 Answers 5


No. A galactic quadrant is a division in astronomy, using the Sun as the pole of the mapping system.

Star Trek borrowed this, although they used their own mapping system.

You can find more information about it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galactic_quadrant

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    The Oxford English dictionary's earliest citation for this astronomical use of quadrant is from Newton in 1702.
    – Buzz
    Commented Oct 27, 2016 at 14:47
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    Stanislaw Lem used the term "quadrant" to discribe a position of a spaceship in his novel "The Test" first published in 1959. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tales_of_Pirx_the_Pilot Though I never read it in the original language, I do not think it first apeared in translation.
    – Ols
    Commented Oct 27, 2016 at 15:01
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    @Ols Original is: "Główna do Albatrosa cztery Aresterra, tankowanie kwadrant siódmy. Omega Główna, tankowanie przeniesione Omega Główna. Koniec." So it's exactly "quadrant". Although it's "seventh quadrant" so I can't make any sense out of it except being "space lingo". Or perhaps in 2d there are 4 quadrants but in 3d there are 8.
    – Agent_L
    Commented Oct 27, 2016 at 15:12
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    @Agent In this novel quadrant is a 1/8 of a sphere. There are 4 quadrants in the upper semisphere and 4 in the lower.
    – Ols
    Commented Oct 27, 2016 at 15:18
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    @Buzz, the quadrant Newton is referring to is an astronomical instrument, basically a quarter of a circle with either a plumbbob or a movable plate. It is used for measuring the angle of objects, similar to an astrolabe (which is typically a complete circle) or sextant. It is unrelated to galactic coordinates - Newton didn't even know the Milky Way WAS a galaxy, after all. Commented Oct 27, 2016 at 15:41

"Quadrant" is a term used by mathematicians to refer to a section of the plane, as in "the positive x-y quadrant." I personally encountered that term as an undergraduate in the 80s, before STTNG came out. Astronomers also use the term to refer to sections of the sky as viewed from Earth, and also as sections of the galaxy.

I don't have any sources handy, but I think mathematicians have been using the term for centuries, since Renee Decartes invented Cartesian coordinates in the 17th century.

  • That's the right answer here. It's a mathematical term for centuries. Unfortunately I'm short of sources ATM.
    – Desorder
    Commented Oct 27, 2016 at 20:36
  • Note "quadrant" comes from "quad", meaning "four". A quadrant is 1/4 of a plane. In Cartesian co-ordinates, there is positive X/positive Y, positive X/negative Y, negative X/positive Y, and negative X/negative Y.
    – Jay
    Commented Oct 29, 2016 at 17:52
  • Exactly. In Star Trek a cartesian two-dimensional coordinate system was placed on the most common top-down view on the milky way (which is logical, as the bulk of the visible matter in the milky way extends much more in width and length then in height), with the origin placed on the galactic center and apparently the division of 1st and 2nd quadrant placed through the solar system. Instead of labeling the quadrants 1 to 4 they are labeled with greek letters and normally it is displayed with a rotation of 180°.
    – RimaNari
    Commented Oct 30, 2016 at 9:00

The word "quadrant" roughly means 1/4th and comes from Latin. It was recorded at least as long ago as 1400. It's especially used to denote a 1/4 section of a circle. A pizza traditionally cut in 4 parts is excellent example of quadrants, but the term is most often used in geography and astronomy. There even is an astronomical instrument called "quadrant" which is used to measure angles, unsurprisingly, up to 90 degrees (one quadrant). It also looks like 1/4 of a circle.

So the term is older than Star Trek and modern English.

//edit: Quadrant is a 2d term. In 3d often space is first divided in half and then each half into quadrants, which results in 8 quadrants making a whole.

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    If it's divided into 8 parts, they're octants, not quadrants. Commented Oct 27, 2016 at 17:01
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    @MontyHarder True, but being originally developed from upon a planet's surface, where you can only see 4 of the octants at a time, it's natural that they would only be called quadrants.
    – techturtle
    Commented Oct 27, 2016 at 18:43
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    Mmmh, I'm fairly sure that if you go to a pizzeria (an Italian term for restaurants serving mostly pizza) and ask for a "quadrant of pizza" they'll stare at you as you were a sick Klingon barfing in the middle of the room (at least here in Italy :-). Commented Oct 27, 2016 at 19:23
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    @MontyHarder The Milky Way is 2-dimensional in the practical sense of starship travel. Because our galaxy is at least 50x as wide as it is deep, any starship able to travel the width or span of the quadrant will be able to travel to any point within the depth of the quadrant, too.
    – gotorg
    Commented Oct 27, 2016 at 20:58
  • @LorenzoDonati: fun fact: pizzeria is widely used in North America to mean the same thing. I didn't know (until just now) that it was borrowed unmodified from real Italian, and wasn't just an Italian-sounding name for pizza places! It's used equally to describe a fancy pizza restaurant with gourmet pizzas, or a cheap take-out / delivery (like a Pizza Hut, or any local non-fancy independent pizzeria, many of which serve delicious pizzas). English culture often likes to keep the foreign names for food, because it sounds exotic. As long as it's easily pronounceable for English speakers. Commented Oct 28, 2016 at 10:31

Using Search Star Trek Scripts, I find there are 415 uses of "sector", usually to mean a volume of space containing several star systems, in Star Trek up to and including Enterprise.

In TOS (1966-1969) and the TOS movies "sector" is used 41 times, usually to mean a volume of space containing several star systems but sometimes to mean a section of a planetary surface, etc. It was also used to describe a sector of interstellar space 6 times in TAS (1973-74).

There are 19 uses of the word "quadrant" in TOS (1966-1969). It can mean a section of the ship or a section of a planet's surface. But it is mostly used to mean a volume of interstellar space containing several star systems.

This use was most notorious in "The Trouble With Tribbles":

KORAX: Of course, I'd say that Captain Kirk deserves his ship. We like the Enterprise. We, we really do. That sagging old rust bucket is designed like a garbage scow. Half the quadrant knows it. That's why they're learning to speak Klingonese.

"Quadrant" is also used 3 times in TAS (1973-1974) to mean a volume of interstellar space containing several star systems.

TOS and TAS do not specify whether sectors and quadrants are different names for the same thing or different sized volumes of space. Quadrants are "fourths" but they don't have to be "fourths" of sectors. It is possible that TOS quadrants are fourths of TOS sectors. It is possible that TOS sectors are parts of quadrants that are parts of still larger volumes of space.


It was not until the TNG episode "The Price" 13 November 1989, that Star Trek started the present system of dividing the entire galaxy into four vast quadrants many times larger than TOS era quadrants.

TOS didn't invent the use of sectors or quadrants for volumes of interstellar space. James White's "Sector General" series is set in a giant hospital space Station, sector Twelve General Hospital, began in the November 1957 issue of New Worlds magazine.

In the military a sector is

SECTOR— A clearly defined area that a given unit protects or covers with fire.

SECTOR OF FIRE— A section of terrain designated by boundaries that is assigned to a unit or to a weapon to cover by fire.


The military use of "sector" for a geographical area may have suggested the sciecne fiction use of "sector" for a galactographical volume.

Ras Ryman (James D. Brown) published The Quadrant War (1976) "a space opera of war between rival interstellar empires".


This was after TOS, but quadrants of space are mentioned in James Blish A Life For The Stars (1962,1963). In Chapter Four "Schoolroom in the Sky" the history of the space cities mentions quadrants of space two times.

What Was the First Science Fiction Use of Space Quadrants?4

What was the first Science Fiction use of Space Sectors?5


No. It also appears in math (specifically graphing). The only reason I know this is because of Math class today.

  • 1
    This answer adds nothing that is not already in other answers.
    – jwodder
    Commented Nov 1, 2016 at 22:59

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