In Star Trek: Discovery, during the season's opening episode, they are stranded on the planet and have no way to communicate to the ship due to storms. So the captain walks in a pattern to make the Starfleet insignia in the sand visible from space. This seems impossible since even the Great Wall of China is not actually visible from space without aid, and they didn't even know to be looking for any visual sign (as far as we know). Outside of using sensors, unless they are searching for the symbol, they would never even know to look for.

How are they found?

  • 3
    Many things are visible from space. With the naked eye, of course, very little is visible. With cameras, well, just look at satellite images. And that's with real technology.
    – Adamant
    Sep 25, 2017 at 6:14

2 Answers 2


The Great Wall of China is visible from space, just not to the unaided astronaut eye....

Taking a quick look as Wikipedia, we find the maximum resolution for Satellite Imagery is something approaching 30cm for WorldView-3

WorldView-3 is a commercial Earth observation satellite owned by DigitalGlobe. It was launched on 13 August 2014 to become DigitalGlobe's sixth satellite in orbit, joining Ikonos which was launched in 1999, QuickBird in 2001, WorldView-1 in 2007, GeoEye-1 in 2008, and WorldView-2 in 2009. WorldView-3 provides commercially available panchromatic imagery of 0.31 m (12 in) resolution, eight-band multispectral imagery with 1.24 m (4 ft 1 in) resolution, shortwave infrared imagery at 3.7 m (12 ft 2 in) resolution, and CAVIS (Clouds, Aerosols, Vapors, Ice, and Snow) data at 30 m (98 ft) resolution.

This is with current Earth technology. Obviously, this is good enough to see a human generated symbol on a beach (granted, it'll take more foot-shuffling than just 'footprints').

Since ST:D is set just before ST:TOS, we can infer a far greater technology than we have now.

Satellite image of the Great Wall of China, taken in 1994. Use the TIFF link and zoom in. I'm sure more recent/higher resolution photos can be found with some searching

  • 4
    Resolution is about object separation, not object size. It refers to how far apart two objects need to be for them to resolve as separate. Even if the footprints are closer together (and individually smaller) than the limit of resolution, they might still show up (although blurred together) in contrast to the surrounding ground.
    – Gaultheria
    Sep 25, 2017 at 7:19
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    I guess. But the point is still the same - powerful cameras can see stuff from space. Star Trek has more powerful cameras than we have, and better scripts.
    – user71418
    Sep 25, 2017 at 7:26

You are thinking that the Shenzhou was looking from orbit, which may not be the case. Burnham had a map of the region where the well was located, it stands to reason Saru had access to the same information. So, that limits the required search area considerably. In other words, Saru knew roughly where to look for them.

Additionally, Burnham, from the surface and without the aid of the sensors on the ship, is able to deduce:

The storm is moving faster than I thought. The ship won't be able to pick up our signatures.

The ship surely came to the same conclusion, so they likely started a manual search.

But, Burnham also states:

"We're far too small to be seen with the naked eye."

Given the relatively small search area, and that the ship would know to look for them without the aid of sensor signatures; a visual signal is the most logical choice

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