Let me be the first to say that this is a silly question and tiny mistakes like this are made all the time, but I was just re-watching a few Voyager episodes. In Homestead (season 7, episode 22), just before the opening credits, Chakotay interrupts the party to tell Nelix:

Long Range sensors have detected several hundred life signs, 4.9 light years away. They're Talaxian.

I don't think sensors can tell the difference between species from 4.9 light years away. If they can, are there any other references to sensors being that accurate?

This could be explained away by having talked with these Talaxians, or maybe detecting their ships’ signatures as Talaxian, but neither explanation was offered. The wording of the show implies the sensors could tell they were Talaxian from 4.9 light years away.

Is that a bit of an error, or are there other examples of sensors being that effective that far away?

Update: Later in the show they had 7 of 9 explain to the visiting lady Talaxian that her sensors were very powerful, so it was probably explained as a 7 of 9 astrometrics update, but also in the show they had trouble tracking the ship after it crashed so . . . I'm going to go with bad writing on this one.

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    Possible dupe of How Do Starfleet Sensors Detect Life Signs? - The top-rated answer indicates that lifeform detection happens at orbital distances.
    – Valorum
    Jan 28, 2017 at 14:13
  • Is there specific mention of the sensor indicating the species? The information regarding species can be something the crew put together based on location, signal pattern, etc. It is part of the job.
    – Misha R
    Jan 28, 2017 at 14:16
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    @MishaRosnach - Nah, it's a straight-up goof as far as I can tell.
    – Valorum
    Jan 28, 2017 at 14:28
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    Sure seems like Chakotay is likely inferring the species from the ship type or power signature or something. Jan 28, 2017 at 15:48
  • Related (i.e. as to the range and sensitivity of sensors), but definitely not a dupe: Positronic signature in Nemesis
    – Praxis
    Jan 28, 2017 at 16:56

1 Answer 1



Voyager is a very sloppy show, and it causes all kinds of problems.

Long-Range sensors work like radar; beams of faster-than-light "subspace" (handwavium) energy are sent out, and reflections are processed.

Bio-sensors are passive sensors, using various arrays to detect emanations from life forms, heat, light, radio signals, whatever, and using heuristics to decide which life forms were which.

The problem, especially in Homestead, is that the Talaxians in question were inside an asteroid, attempting to be invisible. They had no broadcast energy emissions of Talaxian type, they didn't respond to hails, they didn't communicate outside their sphere of influence; there were no "emanations" for the life forms sensors to detect. And even if there were, those emanations would have been relativistic; at least 4 years out of date, and diminished via inverse-square law.

In fact, that's exactly why StarFleet ships carried sensor probes. They could send a probe at warp to an area of interest, scan it with local sensors, then beam back the data over subspace. But Chakotay doesn't say anything about a probe.

So how did Chakotay know they were Talaxians? It's more likely that his spirit guide told him than the sensors did, and there's no real way to get around that except by adding details into the show that were never written by the authors, to add a Talaxian ship warp drive signature, or burst transmissions of Talaxian language, or the smell of bad cooking being detected.

Voyager routinely suffered "technology inflation syndrome.* While it seems hypocritical to be grumpy at a TV show about the future predicting too much future for their future, the simple fact of the matter is that Voyager often broke Trek's own rules for technology barriers.

Not only did a shuttlecraft go Warp 10, but they often had computers slinging around gigaquads and teraquads of data in an instant, multiple drive technologies grafted onto the ship, the entirety of the holographic database being given to the Hirogen in a small briefcase, holograms constantly being confused with androids (the Doctor is a simulation run on the computer, not a "matrix" of "holographic thingamabobs" like they try to write him). It's just sloppy.

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    Adding "matrix" to an explanation makes any technology possible. Jan 30, 2017 at 22:01
  • Holomatrix, Unimatrix, Subspace Field Matrix, Shield Matrix, my god, you're right @Withywindle!
    – Zoey Green
    Jan 30, 2017 at 23:08

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