In the TNG episode "Relics," the Enterprise follows a distress beacon from the Jenolan, a Federation ship that disappeared around 80 years ago, and finds it crashed on the surface of a Dyson sphere, a technological marvel that, until this moment, was believed to be purely theoretical in nature. After some investigation not relevant to this question, they discover that the crew of the Jenolan had found it, done some investigating, then lost engines and crash-landed.

The Enterprise does some investigation of its own, ends up in some serious trouble, (because of course they do, it's Star Trek,) and eventually manages to escape intact, unlike the Jenolan.

But I can't help but wonder. Maybe it's just hindsight after seeing this thing destroy one ship and almost destroy another, but why was it not the first instinct of the crew of either ship to take the most elementary of precautions before beginning to poke at the giant space artifact no one's ever seen before and call it in? Open a channel to Starfleet. "Hey, guess what. We just found a Dyson sphere! Yes, I'm serious. Here are our coordinates. We're going to investigate now. Bye."

Especially given that 1) the Jenolan was en route to a specific destination and now they weren't going to make it on time, and there were surely people who would like to know why, and 2) it's entirely possible that poking at this thing might provoke a hostile response, or at the very least, an unintentionally harmful one. (cf. the infamous "whale probe" incident of 2286.)

Starfleet knows this. So why isn't "if you run into something big, powerful, and unprecedented, call it in immediately!" the SOP for such situations? (Obviously the out-of-universe explanation is that if the Jenolan had done so, the episode would never have occurred, but this still feels unsatisfying, a minor blot on an otherwise top-grade episode.)

  • 10
    A facetious answer would be: Because where would be the drama if people in these shows did the sensible thing? It's kind of like the Away Teams always being comprised of the most senior officers (including the captain), rather than a well trained team dedicated for that specific mission.
    – Peter M
    Commented Mar 23 at 22:17
  • 1
    It does make you wonder how the Dyson sphere could have gone unnoticed all that time since the Jenolan was reported missing in the area... presumably there would have been a search for it at the time which should have encountered the sphere. On a science note... the radiant energy from the star can't just disappear into the surfaces and objects on the sphere's interior... after it's done whatever useful work has been accomplished, there must be waste heat which has to be radiated out from the sphere's exterior which would be observable.
    – Anthony X
    Commented Mar 30 at 15:00
  • 2
    @AnthonyX The heat presumably goes to the same place a starship's inertia goes when it stops abruptly. Commented Apr 3 at 15:35
  • @AnthonyX: That energy was put to use to perform useful work on the inner surface of the sphere. That's sort of the point of the Dyson sphere. Yes, over extreme large time spans it must be eventually be radiated, but there's no violation of the laws of thermodynamics for the outer surface of the sphere to appear extremely cold (i.e. almost invisible) over reasonable timescales. Also, space is very big. Commented Apr 3 at 15:59
  • 1
    Just like a pilot's #1 job on a terrestrial aircraft is Aviate, Navigate, Communicate, that's probably the Starfleet mantra, too. First things first, don't crash, then make sure you end up where you're planning on going, then tell someone about it. Since the Jenolan didn't manage step 1, you can't expect them to make it to steps 2 & 3...
    – FreeMan
    Commented Apr 3 at 16:32

3 Answers 3


They did, kinda

In the dialogue (voiceover) we hear

Captain's log, stardate 46125.3. Starfleet has dispatched two science vessels to study the Dyson Sphere while we proceed to Starbase fifty five.


Now, granted, this after they found Scotty etc. but then there was a lot going on (like answering the Jenolen's distress signal for the Enterprise) or in Scotty's case non-functional engines.

Phoning home might be a little way down on my list, the sphere isn't going anywhere so a survey seems in order before sending up a flare.

  • 2
    I think the first half of this answer acks up the question rather than answering it, which is why didn't either vessel call it in before investigating. The second half is more relevant, but mere speculation
    – Valorum
    Commented Mar 23 at 22:47
  • 1
    Granted but then they rarely, if ever, call home before doing anything. They are an exploration vessel after all. Plus we don't now that they didn't, off-screen ☺
    – Paulie_D
    Commented Mar 23 at 22:56
  • 3
    Sure, but this seems pretty special. It potentially represents a living space greater than the entire population of the Federation times a gazillion
    – Valorum
    Commented Mar 23 at 23:09
  • I remember reading the novelization of this episode before it actually aired, with the result that the episode felt extremely rushed and paired down. I don't recall if the novelization presented a more rational approach, but wouldn't be surprised if it did.
    – chepner
    Commented Mar 24 at 13:28
  • 2
    I would personally say that SOP for "chancing across a massive artificial structure of unknown origin, far beyond anything known, created by an unknown civilisation, with unknown intent and unknown threat stance" would definitely be "observe from a great distance, inform Star Fleet ASAP, do not approach" rather than "blindly dive in head first". After all, its not going anywhere. Log it, take some photos from a long distance away, inform your highers up.
    – Moo
    Commented Mar 24 at 20:31

My instinct is that there were two separate situations here both with their own unique characteristics.

The Jenolan

The Jenolan has found itself off course and stranded at sub-warp speeds due to a "gravimetric anomaly". During this era ships like theirs weren't capable of contacting Starfleet in realtime and this object appears to be emitting the sort of radiation that blocks the faster-than-light communication they're capable of, which is the equivalent of video letters.

That being said, although this certainly does appear to be a Dyson Sphere, it could easily be some manner of illusion or hologram or an attempt to entrap other ships into approaching, so an initial investigation would be warranted in any case.

The Enterprise-D

The Enterprise-D, on the other hand is basically right where it's supposed to be and is perfectly capable of conducting a full-scale scientific investigation. They don't need to contact Starfleet to do the initial survey because they themselves are the people that Starfleet would contact if such a thing was reported.

Now, theoretically, if this turns out to be some manner of threat and the Enterprise is destroyed catastrophically then another ship would be dispatched to their exact location in order to find out why, and would encounter the same distress signal and the Dyson sphere.

In this case, doing an initial investigation seems the most sensible course of action rather than running home to mumsy to ask what to do.


I like both Paulie_D's and Valorum's answers, but I wanted to add a meaningful point as well.

The premise of this question is flawed.

The question assumes that the Enterprise did not contact Starfleet before investigating the Dyson Sphere, but the episode does not suggest this one way or the other.

We do not see and hear every single order issued prior to the Enterprise being pulled into the Dyson Sphere, and the bulk of this episode's action takes place away from the bridge.

Significant time passes after Mr. Scott's rescue. It is at least one day, given the time Scotty spends exploring the Enterprise-D before feeling useless and out of place. Picard meets Scotty in the holodeck after coming off duty, and Scotty reports for away team duty with LaForge the next morning after that meeting.

(Otherwise, this question presumes the episode more or less happens in real time, which has implications. For example, you are suggesting Scotty gets depressed and drunk in astoundingly short order.)

Maybe it's just hindsight after seeing this thing destroy one ship and almost destroy another but why was it not the first instinct of the crew of either ship to take the most elementary of precautions before beginning to poke at the giant space artifact no one's ever seen before and call it in?

That is not what happened. The Enterprise receives the Jenolan's 75-year-old distress signal encounters the sphere, investigates and, to everyone's surprise, finds the crashed Jenolan and, immediately thereafter, a survivor: Montgomery Scott.

Scotty informs the Enterprise crew that the Jenolan's crash landing was due to "an overload in one of the plasma transfer conduits" followed by another accident in which "our aft power coils suddenly exploded." The Dyson sphere is not named or suspected as the cause of either issue at the time.

Neither the Jenolan nor the Enterprise observed "this thing destroy one ship and almost destroy another." There is no indication at this time that the Dyson sphere is anything but an astounding discovery slash curiosity.

In keeping with both Pauli_D and Valorum's answers, and to mix in a direct quote from Picard himself in Q Who?:

PICARD: Yes. Absolutely. That's why we're out here.

The Enterprise's whole mission is to explore. :-) (I am not going to cite supporting evidence for this claim.)

They're already on the scene, the Dyson Sphere appears harmless (and it is, really; it's certainly not hostile), and whatever mission the Enterprise was on is apparently not time-sensitive.

One final germane consideration is the fact that subspace communication is not always instantaneous. I grant that various Star Trek episodes frequently play fast and loose with this and that radio travels at the speed of plot, but realistically, even with subspace radio traveling at warp 9.99995+, the galaxy is still is a big place and signals take time to propagate. It can easily be inferred that, because the Dyson Sphere has not been discovered up until this point, it's not in a well-travelled and likely distant area. Except in wartime (and not always even in wartime; several DS9 episodes show lone ships on missions), ships generally travel alone and not in packs. Help (in the form of another ship) being some distance away is the norm and not the exception.

In conclusion:

For all we the viewers know, Picard DID contact Starfleet as per standard operating procedure, and we just never heard it. There is no information to the contrary in the on-screen dialog, and once the Enterprise was in danger, their situation was immediate and serious enough that they could not simply sit tight and await rescue.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.