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Warp plasma appears to burn green. (Obvious observation is obvious.)

For example, in the Star Trek Voyager episode Fair Trade, weapons fire ignites a cloud of warp plasma that had been seeping out of a container with disabled safeties. The subsequent explosion is a rather intense green:

Fair Trade

(Yes, that's a person on fire, but it's OK - he's a drug dealer)

In an earlier Voyager episode, Investigations:

"Neelix manages to gain the upper hand and Jonas is knocked over the railing into the plasma-stream from a ruptured plasma conduit, incinerating him instantly." (Memory Alpha)

I am unsure if the plasma had been ignited or was just leaking.

Investigations

In the real world, copper burns green, as does chromium and krypton gas is used in green neon signs.

Why does warp plasma burn green? Is there a (pseudo-)scientific reason, or is it just part of the story? Does it burn this color in other Star Trek series?

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    I'm not sure there's a scientific basis for warp plasma burning at all. Actually, since there are no molecules, only free electrons and nuclei, there's nothing to combust and I'm pretty sure it couldn't "burn" at all (spontaneous or induced fusion perhaps?).
    – Kevin
    Nov 18, 2011 at 15:12
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    Also in First Contact the warp plasma was a greenish color I think
    – Xantec
    Nov 18, 2011 at 17:15
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    @Xantec: That was plasma coolant, not actual plasma.
    – gnovice
    Nov 18, 2011 at 19:13
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    Warp plasma is used to convert photons to energy. It's green because it has a very high chlorophyll content. Nov 18, 2011 at 21:04
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    @Lèsemajesté: It was a joke. (I was tempted to add something about midichlorians, but decided not to.) Nov 20, 2011 at 21:15

2 Answers 2

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I asked about plasma being able to ignite and burn at all over on Physics.se. The answer is the same as Kevin's comment. Plasma is composed of free electrons and nuclei, and can't ignite or burn in the traditional chemical sense. There are tests being done with nuclear reactions to ignite plasma, but nothing conclusive yet.

However, because warp plasma is fictional, it has fictional properties and I suspect it burns green because green gas in special effects suggests it is very unhealthy for the victims and because our eyes can see green very well compared to some other colors, the brightness of the 'flame' seems brighter through the TV than if it were another color.

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  • Feel free to correct me or edit my post if I've made a mistake regarding the nature of actual plasma.
    – Kalamane
    Nov 18, 2011 at 19:08
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    I think you've nailed the real reason - green indicates poison. Nov 18, 2011 at 19:52
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    could it be that they just use "plasma fire" as some kind of metaphor for a more complex physical process that doesn't actually involve oxidation?
    – HorusKol
    Nov 19, 2011 at 3:09
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    Green also indicates radiation to the viewer (cf. Disaster in TNG en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/Disaster) Dec 18, 2012 at 0:08
  • But any nuclear physicist knows that pale blue indicates radiation!
    – forest
    Apr 2, 2018 at 1:51
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OK, here's a possible real physics explanation - Cherenkov radiation. Its a blue glow around nuclear reactors that emit high velocity particles. The particles transition into a medium with a lower speed of light and the result is a broad spectrum electromagnetic wave due to disturbance in the local medium. Most of the radiation is actually in the UV spectrum, however the part that we can see is blue. However, this is in water. What about air? It turns out that Cherenkov radiation can also be seen in the Earth's atmosphere when high energy gamma rays or cosmic rays strike the upper atmosphere.

A matter-anti-mattter annihilation produces near total matter to energy conversion with the release of massive amounts of gamma radiation. Warp plasma must originate from the gamma energy source or itself might be gamma radiation somehow contained in a plasma (admittedly hand waving here). Our eyes are most sensitive to green. It is not a huge reach to say that very high intensity gamma rays would broaden the spectrum enough to appear green.

Anyone near this flash would be seriously dead.

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