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In the DS9 Episode "The Homecoming", Kira and O'Brien enter orbit over a labour camp.

When scanning the planet's surface to find Li Nalas, why can't they isolate his DNA from what's on record (from the earring Kira was sent)?

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In short, the runabout's sensors and computers aren't nearly powerful enough to scan each Bajoran on the planet, isolate their DNA, compare it with a DNA strand on file and then provide a location for a single individual.

Note that when the ship's sensor do find someone specific from orbit, it's invariably because they're an alien or because they're wearing something (an element or a piece of tech) that's wildly incongruous to the setting.

In Star Trek, when they do scan DNA it's always at close range, using a tricorder or internal sensors which are presumably vastly more powerful.

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    So, for example, could a science ship with extensive arrays scan for DNA, because in a TOS episode (forget which one) they scan the DNA of all the people on the opposing ship? – Pioneer Jun 9 '15 at 20:59
  • @Pioneer - Possibly. My guess is that any scanner powerful enough to do a long-range DNA scan would show up on someone's sensors. Or require far too long to be useful. – Valorum Jun 9 '15 at 21:02
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    I am reminded of The Enterprise Incident, in which Chekov is hard pressed to distinguish Spock, half Human and half not-quite-Romulan, from a ship full of Romulans within firing range. Granted, there is about a century between the two instances, but on the other hand, The Enterprise wasn't some stinking runabout. – Politank-Z Jun 9 '15 at 23:17
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    @Pioneer Sure they were, but they weren't ships of the line with the range of science equipment and personnel which that entails. I find it at least plausible that the Constitution-Class Enterprise's ability to scan, while comprised of less advanced equipment, was more effective in the aggregate than a Danube-Class runabout. – Politank-Z Jun 10 '15 at 15:22
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    @Pioneer - The idea was to be discreet. – Valorum Jun 13 '15 at 7:57
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In the DS9 Episode "The Homecoming", Kira and O'Brien enter orbit over a labour camp.

When scanning the planet's surface to find Li Nalas, why can't they isolate his DNA from what's on record (from the earring Kira was sent)?

  1. The "The Homecoming" occurs on stardate 47101.2.

  2. The episode "Time's Orphan" is shown on Wikipedia (and Memory Alpha) as occuring on an unknown stardate, but between 51825.4 and 51948.3 (closer to the second stardate).

    Using the DS9 Stardate Calculator:

    • 47101.2 is Mon Oct 20 2369 19:06:36 GMT-0700 (Pacific Daylight Time)

    • 51825.4 is Thu Dec 12 2374 21:14:04 GMT-0800 (Pacific Standard Time)

    • 51948.3 is Thu Jan 30 2375 18:29:15 GMT-0800 (Pacific Standard Time)

      1. Using the Date Calculator at Calculator.Net and subtracting "Dec 12 2374" from "Jan 30 2375" is 50 days difference.

      2. Assuming equal intervals between each episode (which is incorrect) that puts "Valiant" 51825.4 as day zero and "The Source of Her Voice" 51948.3 as day fifty, so "Profit and Lace" is day 50/3*1, and "Time's Orphan" is day 50/3*2=33.3333333, so that's Jan. 14 2375 or (very roughly) stardate 51908.23, some date difference of: 5 years 1 months 23 days or 61 months 23 days or 268 weeks 3 days or 1879 days.

        The episode "Time's Orphan" was (will be) almost 5 years and 2 months later than the episode "The Homecoming". Transporter technology didn't gain the capability of DNA Acquisition during that period of time, it was used prior to "The Homecoming"; while no specific information is available as to the inclusion of the technique, how else would it have worked, it is explained in episode "Time's Orphan".

  3. Memory Alpha's webpage "DNA acquisition sensor" explains:

    "A DNA acquisition sensor was a component of a transporter that locked onto an individual's DNA.

    In 2374, a DNA acquisition sensor was used to locate Molly O'Brien through a time portal on Golana. (DS9: "Time's Orphan")".

One possible explanation is offered in the Star Trek TOS episode s1x10 "Dagger of the Mind":

"The USS Enterprise is on a routine cargo drop to the Tantalus Penal Colony on the planet Tantalus V, beaming down cylinders containing infra-sensory drugs and other supplies. Lieutenant Berkley, in charge of the transporter, tries to beam the cargo down, but is having trouble doing so. Captain Kirk enters the transporter room seeing this and jokingly chides Berkley over the fact that the colony has not yet deactivated its security force field. After contacting the colony, it does so and the cargo is beamed down.".

It would make little sense, so many years later, that the Cardassians would have a prison camp where one could simply fly overhead and beam everyone away. It's reasonable to assume that there's some jamming ability but routine usage of such equipment would be wasteful. There is a ground level force field operating continuously to prevent the prisoners from running off, or people from entering.

The plot indicates that Kira and O'Brien thought that they might be able to transport two people out before being discovered but that more couldn't be transported simultaneously on such a small craft, one that had been rigged "to appear Lissepian on long-range scanners". Safe to say that a larger and more capable would be subjected to greater scrutiny by the cautious Cardassians.

The circumstances, while not precisely detailed, necessitated them physically entering the camp, locating Li Nalas and physically running to the ship. Even with Li Nalas outside the security perimeter Kira and O'Brien didn't run back to the runabout and simply beam him back, instead everyone not taking a defensive position ran to the runabout.

Video: The rescue of Li Nalas - after landing to takeoff.

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