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The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Emissary" establishes the existence of the Quadros-1 probe, which surveyed the Gamma Quadrant. Apparently it encountered the Idran system, close to the Gamma Quadrant side of the Bajoran wormhole, in the 22nd Century.

The non-canon source "Star Trek: Star Charts" states that Quadros-1 was launched in 2193. However, this seems to be a glaring inaccuracy even just based on the information contained in "Emissary" itself.

The distance from Deep Space Nine (which is already considered to be in "deep space" from a Federation perspective, obviously) to the Gamma Quadrant side of the Bajoran wormhole, is stated to be 70,000 light years. Even if the probe left on January 1, 2193 and arrived on December 31, 2199 (the last day of the 22nd Century) it would take at most 7 years to be in sensor range of the Idran system.

Even by 24th Century standards this is fast. It seems that long range sensor scans are only about 10 light years and the fastest starships travel at warp 9.975, which is not more than 3000 times the speed of light by any estimate. In order to make a journey of 70,000 (or 69,990) light years in 7 years, the probe would need to be travelling at an average speed of about 10,000 times the speed of light.

Is there any reasonable canon explanation for this or should we just dismiss this non-canon year as utter nonsense?

For example,

  • Are there any Federation colonies closer to the Gamma Quadrant side of the Bajoran wormhole than Deep Space Nine?
  • Can probes travel (significantly) faster than ordinary starships?
  • Can probes scan at (significantly) longer ranges than ordinary starships?

Or any other explanation.

  • The key, for better or for worse, is Friendship One. I've made extensive updates to my answer to account for it. – Schwern Jan 22 '15 at 20:23
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All the canon information we have to go on is two lines from Emissary.

COMPUTER: Idran is based on the analysis conducted in the twenty-second century by the Quadros-One probe of the Gamma Quadrant.

SISKO: The Gamma Quadrant? Seventy thousand light years from Bajor? I'd say we just found our way into a wormhole.

I have three scenarios to explain this...

  • Yes, but the computer was misunderstood.
  • Maybe, but it wasn't built by humans.
  • No, because it was launched much earlier.

That last one seems highly implausible, but it turns out to have the most canon support.


Yes, but the computer was misunderstood

Star Trek: Star Charts (according to Memory Alpha) says it was launched in 2193 but operated until 2369, but this is not canon.

According to the Star Trek: Star Charts, on pages 72 to 73, the Quadros 1 probe was launched in 2193 and was operational to 2369. The probe's course would bring it close to Quasar M39, on the outer rim of the galaxy.

Likely the writers of Star Charts realized the mistake as you did and retconed the dates to give it more time. But it's hard to come up with an interpretation of what the computer said that fits this retcon.


Maybe, but it wasn't built by humans

@Hypnosifl offers the idea that Quadros-One was built by another species, one with much better warp technology in the 22nd century and/or possibly located closer to Idran. It doesn't even have to be a Federation member, all that's required is at some point they shared their data with the Federation.


No, because it was launched much earlier

@Hypnosifl suggests another option in the comments, what if the probe was launched much earlier? If it were launched in the late 21st century or early 22nd and arrived in the late 22nd this would give it more travel time and quire less speed. The distance is at least 70,000+ ly (that's just from Bajor to Idran, then add (or subtract) Bajor to Earth, but we don't know how far Bajor is from Earth). That's a speed of 700c or about warp 7 which is seemingly far too fast for the time. Humans only passed warp 2 in 2143.

Maybe probes are faster than starships and can sustain high warp speeds and don't need to worry about keeping squishy meat-bags alive. How much faster? Voyager said they'd need 75 years to cover that distance, and they're using technology 300 years newer than our theoretical probe launched in 2099.

However... we've seen a probe from the 21st century in the Beta Quadrant, Friendship 1 "launched four years after Zefram Cochrane tested his first warp engine" or 2067. The episode says it was lost in 2248...

JANEWAY: In any case, we lost contact with the probe one hundred and thirty years ago but, its last known coordinates

TORRES: Let me guess. Were in the neighbourhood.

JANEWAY: Starfleet's mapped out a search grid. It'll take us a little off course, but if the probe is still intact and we're lucky enough to find it, we'll be retrieving a little piece of history.

181 years to go how far? This is very late season seven, they're "just" 30,000 light years from Earth. That probe was doing 165c or a bit less than warp 5. VERY IMPRESSIVE for a culture that only four years ago discovered warp drive and was living in ARMED CAMPS. The Vulcans must have helped.

If we accept that humans could build probes doing nearly warp 5 in 2067, could they build one to do warp 7 in 2099? Probably. Other possibilities include wormholes and whatever other astrological phenomenon the probe might encounter to speed up its journey. It can't be anything too wacky, like what happened to Vgr and Nomad, because they kept reporting their position and science back and there's no evidence of modifications upon their re-discoveries.

Quite surprising to me, if we accept Friendship One (which has a raft of problems of its own, but that's canon for ya) then it is plausible that Quadros-One could have been launched in 2099 by humans.

  • This doesn't answer the question. – James Sheridan Jan 22 '15 at 7:33
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    @JamesSheridan Sure it does. The questioner assumes Idran is found in the 22nd century. But the probe was operational far, far longer than that and so had plenty of time to reach Idran. – Schwern Jan 22 '15 at 7:48
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    Why do you say the wording in the episode was the "mistake", as opposed to the dates in Star Charts? If it was launched in the late 21st century it could have reached the Gamma Quadrant by the late 22nd century, maybe the writers of Star Charts just weren't paying enough attention and thought the computer said it was launched in the 22nd century. – Hypnosifl Jan 22 '15 at 14:33
  • Made a big update, and it turns out I think @Hypnosifl is right! – Schwern Jan 22 '15 at 20:02
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    The speculation about "The Vulcans must have helped" is an interesting one, do we know for a fact that Quadros-1 was even launched by humans? It could have been launched by some other species that later joined with (or became allied with) the Federation and shared the information it had obtained, all we really know is that its readings were in the Federation database. And if was designed by a non-human civilization, it could have been launched long before humans were capable of warp flight (and/or from a location closer to the Gamma Quadrant). – Hypnosifl Jan 22 '15 at 21:09
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I would hazard a guess, that the probe was sent to the Gamma quadrant, and while on its journey it was already scanning everything it could, the way we are exploring now ie. spectral analysis of light from distant stars, and probably other methods of very large distance exploration available in 22nd century.

At present day we can detect large planets and chemical composition, its not unreasonable to expect that in 200 years from now the probe specifically designed to get new info on if not entire quadrant but perhaps a large part of it, will be capable of getting a lot of information from very large distance. Not to mention, that it could have made updates later on as it was nearing the target.

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Schwern says that we don't know how far Bajor is from Earth, but actually the DS9 episode "Fascination" establishes the distance to Bajor to a precision of one or two hundred light years.

Did you ever hear of S Doradus? "The great and glorious S Doradus" as it is described in Mission to the Stars by A.E. Van Vogt. For decades popular astronomy books described S Doradus as the intrinsically most luminous star known, although today S Doradus is the least luminous star on this list.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_most_luminous_stars1

S Doradus is in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of our galaxy, and is believed to be about 51,800 parsecs or 169,000 light years from Earth.

Most other stars in the list are in our galaxy, but some are in the Large Magellanic Cloud, or in the Andromeda Galaxy M31 2,400,000 light years from Earth, or the Triangulum Galaxy M33 3,000,000 light years from Earth. And one, NGC 2363-V1, is in galaxy NGC 2366 10,800,000 light years away.

The most distant individual star known is SDSS J1229+1122, a blue supergiant Type O star in the galaxy IC 3418, about 55,000,000 light years from Earth.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SDSS_J1229%2B11222

The Quadros-One probe might have had Starfleet type sensors capable of detecting objects at distances of ten light years or 20 light years or some other distance. But do you know what other types of instruments the Quadros-one probe might have been using?

Telescopes. Gamma ray telescopes, X-ray telescopes, ultraviolet telescopes, visible light telescopes, infrared telescopes, radio telescopes, subspace telescopes, etc., etc., etc.

How far away can 21st century Earth telescopes detect galaxies, quasars, etc.? The most distant galaxy ever detected by Earth astronomers is galaxy GN-z11, believed to be over 13,000,000,000 light years from Earth.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_the_most_distant_astronomical_objects3

That is about 185,000 times as far away as Idran.

There is one problem with detecting distant stars in our galaxy from Earth. Our solar system is near the central plane of the galactic disc. Many dust clouds are also near the central plane of the galactic disc. It is very easy to see objects in our galaxy or out of it which are at angles "above" or "below" the central plane, because the lines of sight only go though short sections of galactic dust clouds. But looking along the central plane toward the center of the galaxy through 20,000 light years of dust clouds obscures the brilliant central bulge of our galaxy.

So looking at Idran 70,000 light years away along the central plane of the galaxy would be looking through about 70,000 light years of galactic dust to block their light. We would't be able to see Idran or any other stars within thousands of light years of Idran from Earth.

But the obscuring dust clouds are concentrated near the central plane of the galactic disc. Traveling "up" or "down" from the central plane would soon take a starship "above" or "below" the dust clouds and give it a clear view of distant parts of the galactic disc. The Quadros-One probe might have had to travel only 500 or 1,000 light years above or below the central plane of the galaxy to get a clear view of most of the Gamma Quadrant.

So we don't know whether the Quadros-One probe detected and studied Idran when it was 1,000 light years from Earth and 69,000 light years from Idran, or 69,000 light years from Earth and 1,000 light years from Idran, or whatever.

But obviously the Quadros-One probe had a fast enough warp drive, and carried enough fuel, to travel for 500 light years or 50,000 light years, or whatever the distance it actually traveled to study the Gamma Quadrant.

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