On-screen TOS canon establishes that starships are fueled by anti-matter (matter/anti-matter annihilation), and that dilithium crystals are critical elements in matter/anti-matter engines. Also established on-screen in TNG, if not TOS, is that dilithium crystals degrade with use (cracking and "burning" are mentioned explicitly in dialog, but one might also infer erosion). Consistent within these earlier series is the understanding of anti-matter as fuel and dilithium as some sort of reaction mediator that has a finite life. Even when Spock observes unusual energy readings originating from Elaan's necklace (TOS:"Elaan of Troyius"), it could be explained in-canon as the crystals interacting with ambient energy, not that the crystals are themselves an energy source.

Dilithium is central to the ST:Discovery season 3 arc. Its treatment within the arc seems almost to redefine the nature of dilithium into an energy source in and of itself, rather than essential mediator.

Has Discovery departed from ST canon in this respect, or am I overlooking/misunderstanding something?

  • I'd say discovery having a stockpile of crystals is a departure but the basic nature of Dilithium your question focuses on seems consistent with TNG treatment- aside from the big explosion being something unprecedented. – lucasbachmann Jan 19 at 10:29

It hasn't.

Both dilithium and anti-matter are crucial elements for a working warp drive. In Star Trek, anti-matter can be synthesized, but dilithium needs to be mined. The Burn of the 31st Century was a galaxy-wide event that caused all dilithium to temporarily become inert, which in turn caused all active warp drives to detonate, as there was nothing mediating the anti-matter reaction.


  • "that caused all dilithium to temporarily become inert" - why "temporarily"? If most dilithium had become only temporarily inert, would dilithium really be scarce more than a century later? (Unless by "temporarily", you mean some point after Discovery's current episodes, which we cannot quite know about yet.) – O. R. Mapper Jan 2 at 0:54
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    Because the plot demands it. – Hoytman Jan 2 at 1:38
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    ...crucial elements for some working warp drives. As noted here memory-alpha.fandom.com/wiki/Warp_drive#Technology not all civilizations had warp drives that operated along the same lines as the Federation ships' – StayOnTarget Jan 2 at 1:47
  • It was commented on at one point that dilithium sources were starting to get rare even before the Burn, so one can imagine that a large chunk of what was known to exist was already in use, and when those reactors went the dilithium went with them. – Keith Morrison Jan 2 at 8:36
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    Cochrane was able to use a nuclear power source to achieve low warp speeds – Valorum Jan 19 at 11:54

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