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I thought of this question while reading another question here.

In both examples of suicide-by-phaser that I know about, the phaser gets vaporized too! Think of the homeless man in The City on the Edge of Forever after he steals McCoy's phaser.

And there's the example in the in video clip below where Captain Terrell kills himself in Wrath of Khan. It's from 55 seconds to 60 seconds.

Why doesn't the phaser just drop to the floor after these suicides? The phaser is vaporized too! Which means the beam must turn back on itself or something.

The answer to this question probably involves treknobabble nonsense, but I would like to know if there is an in-universe explanation.

Edit: CanadianGirlScout found another example of suicide-by-phaser that destroys the phaser too. It's at the 3:26 mark in this video clip.

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    The more fundamental question is: Why do phasered objected disintegrate as a coherent whole (a whole rock disappearing at once, or an entire person and all their equipment), rather than the disintegration effect moving outward from the point of the beam's impact? Presumably, there is not reason except 1960s special effect exigencies. – Buzz Jan 7 '17 at 23:27
  • Related - scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/12474/… – Paulie_D Jan 7 '17 at 23:35
  • 'What are little girls made of?' episode in the original series also has Dr. Korby firing a phaser between himself and Andrea with the phaser disappearing along with them. It happens around minute 3:26. – Canadian Girl Scout Jan 9 '17 at 4:25
  • @CanadianGirlScout Ah, thanks. That is a third example of suicide-by-phaser that destroys the phaser too. This is now a recurring theme. – RichS Jan 9 '17 at 4:47
  • @Buzz One could ask the same thing about disruptors, though those do tend to spread from the point of impact (but still only affect the desired object[s]). – JAB Jun 5 '17 at 15:35
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From Memory Alpha:

Federation phasers emit nadion radiation - a beam of particles causing molecular disruption.

The effect described by OP is called vaporization or disintegration or disruption effect and required specific setting on the firing device.

I would say that in this setting beam is enveloping - although this is only my own speculation based on visual effects of the beam hit in various situations.

  • Technobabble aside, the phaser probably disappears because it is held by the person getting disintegrated, whatever effect causes the disruption extends to objects held in their hands (and clothing, jewelry, etc). Nothing else survives on anyone getting disintegrated, so why would the phaser held in their hand? – Jason K Jan 9 '17 at 16:58
  • @JasonK - then why not disintegrate the floor they are standing on (or partially). Or why not the planet? Or the -gasp- universe? – iMerchant Jan 9 '17 at 21:22
  • @iMerchant - i'm thinking the targeting system makes sure of that? There is also a way to set phaser on wide-beam in disintegration setting, so where's the problem? – AcePL Jan 10 '17 at 14:34
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    @iMerchant I'm not saying it makes any kind of logical sense, just that "the phaser is in their hand" is all the justification they need to sell the idea. If folks were phasered and their tools and clothes fell to the floor, then I think you'd see the suicide phaser fall as well. But since everything else disintegrates, so does the suicide phaser. As to why the disintegration effect doesn't spread beyond the EXACT area needed for the plot, well, it is becau....POOF look over there, a Gorn! – Jason K Jan 10 '17 at 14:42
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I suspect that even the smallest hand phasers have computers in them sophisticated enough to scan the direction they are pointed at with radar or something. And those computers determine from those scans what target has been selected and take the right actions.

And if the disintegrate setting has been selected the computer makes the phaser disintegrate what it deduces is the selected target and nothing else. I imagine that a phaser set on disintegrate actually use a transporter beam on the target to disassemble it and scatter its subatomic particles over a volume of a hundred cubic miles or something.

As for the phaser scattering itself along with the target when held by the target, presumably the computer in the phaser has no self preservation programming. Instead it has instructions how to determine which objects are part of the target such as objects worn or held by the living being when it is aimed at a living being. And since the phaser is one of the objects held by the being that is the target it includes iteslf in the items to be dispersed.

I think in the case of a disintegration, and maybe at other settings, the visible beam is merely some sort of guide for the person firing the phaser, or something like that.

If the visible bean when the phaser is set on disintegration carried all the disintegrating force it would be very hard to explain how it knew how much to spread out once it it hits target. Thus it seems be be merely a visual guide.

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    I think this answer would be easier to understand and to read if you removed the five paragraphs of "wrong" information at the top and just focused on what you think the correct answer actually is. – Steve-O Jan 8 '17 at 5:03
  • I suspect your answers would be far better received if you concentrated on answering the question as asked rather than veering off into a tangent to discuss additional questions that you feel follow as a logical consequence. There's a lot of good work in both your questions and answers but it often feels like you're trying too much to show how clever you are and not focusing on what needs to be asked/what answer needs to be given. – Valorum Jan 9 '17 at 15:52

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