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In "Unification I" (TNG, Episode 5x07), Fleet Admiral Brackett shows Captain Picard a picture of Ambassador Spock taken on the planet Romulus by a Federation "long range scanner". How can they take such a clear picture of someone on Romulus from, I'm assuming, 3.62ly away. That's the distance from the Neutral Zone to Romulus.

https://encrypted-tbn0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcRljToyYhaoU2O8jME0qx2YcHfBLy-syXO7Sua50UPIa1kwQnOCKA

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    Shot in the Dark here: I guess the same way the NSA listening posts on Cyprus listened to the Soviet launches in Baikonour: some camera on Romulus takes the pic, sends it via subspace transmission to the home base (Tal Shiar probably), but the signal goes further then strictly necessary and some sensor at the neutral zone spying upon Romulus picks it up (severely weakened), amplifies it and sends it on to Star Fleet Intelligence. The most trouble will probably be to differentiate from the background noise. But hey, they have faster-then-light travel, so who knows what they can do... – BMWurm Aug 13 '14 at 9:20
  • If they can photograph and recognize individuals on Romulus from over three and a half light-years away. That is seeing someone's face from over 21 trillion miles away!! – Morgan Aug 13 '14 at 17:08
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    They are not doing the photographing from that far away. They just pick up the transmission feed from a camera that is already there. – BMWurm Aug 13 '14 at 17:39
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Although Federation scanners have sufficient resolution to detect a ship at approximately 10 LY, this would obviously be insufficient to take a photo from outside the Romulan system.

In this case, the show script makes it clear that the "long-range scanner" Brackett is referring to is some kind of high resolution camera, presumably wielded by a Federation spy from some distance away:

A fuzzy, out-of-focus picture, with margins showing on screen, comes into frame -- something obviously taken on a very long lens. There are several blurred figures, none of them identifiable

ADMIRAL BRACKETT - Taken on Romulus, by long-range scanner. Computer, enhance image in section four-delta.

  • Sorry for the delay, this and a couple other answers got lost in the pile. I'll remedy the oversight ASAP. – Morgan Mar 3 '15 at 1:23

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