In addition to galactic-scale phenomena such as the spiral arms, the Core, and the Barriers, many dangers and scientific opportunities appear in the vast empty spaces among the stars. In general, such phenomena occur most commonly in regions of denser star populations, but exploratory vessels have found enough excep-tions to this rule to fill a library computer complex. The universe remains a wondrous place, and the “laws of astrophysics” 20th-century humanity postulated without ever leaving their planet proved mutable indeed.
This section describes these phenomena, as far as Starfleet understands them, and gives some indications about their distribution and frequency. For their effects on passing for investigating) ships, see Chapter 13: Hazards.
As they age, stars that mass more than 20 times Earth’s sun can collapse past the neutron star stage and become a black hole (also known as a “singularity” or “black star”). Black holes generate gravity one hundred billion times that of Earth, so strong that even light cannot escape them. The radiation, dust, and gas attracted by a black hole forms an accretion disk around the hole, and as they fall into the hole, power-ful gravity waves and X-rays radiate out from the hole. These emissions can endanger nearby objects, includ-ing starships and even entire worlds.
Moving into a black hole’s gravity field causes immense gravimetric shear damage (see Hazards, page 231) and presents a risk of time dilation, or time com-pression. Flying at the wrong tangent into the black hole’s gravity field can result in a relativistic one-way trip up to a billion years into the future or, if the black hole is spinning, into the past! Starfleet archaeologists occa-sionally detect frighteningly ancient relics spinning in orbits around black holes, preserved by this time-dila-tion effect. Some mathematical theories predict that the precise center of a black hole is a “white hole” into another universe; this other universe may be the home dimension of the life-form encountered by the U.S.S. Enterprise-D in 2369 that uses quantum singularities as nests for its young. The Romulans power some of their ships, including the feared D’deridex-class Warbird, with minute black holes known as artificial quantum singu-larities; thanks to the elaborate and multiply redundant safety interlocks built into these drives, very few have accidentally created true black holes, even when the ships were destroyed by energy sources like phasers.
Chaotic space is Starfleet’s term for certain areas of space where the ordinary rules of physics do not apply. Starfleet scientists speculate that the areas of interphasic space lying on the edges of some Tholion territories, the “fluidic space” gateways in the Delta Quadrant where Species 8472 roams, and any number of subspace and temporal anomalies may be examples of chaotic space.
Although the causes of this phenomenon remain unknown, the effects do not, and have given starship captains cause to avoid known regions of chaotic space scrupulously. First, due to the breaking of the laws of physics, most starship equipment (especially navigational equipment) does not function correctly, or at full efficiency, in chaotic space. Complex mathematical calculations (TN 25 or higher) are necessary to plot even the simplest exit course; only Medusons, Kelvans, Bynars, and a few other outside species can navigate chaotic space normally. Additionally, the altering of physical laws creates gravimetric shear that can damage starships. Other effects may also arise. In short, you can use chaotic space to generate whatever sort of interference or difficulty you need to drive your episode.
A cluster arises when several stars get close enough to each other to remain mutually gravitationally influenced. Clusters range from enormous clumps containing thousands of stars (like the Pleiades) to tight knots of ten or twelve stars joined in a web of ionized gas, solar matter, light metals, and plasma. Typically, all the stars in a cluster are of approximately the same age, but some unusual exceptions to this rule do exist.
Planets in various states of formation, intense gravitational fluctuations (page 173) and anomalies (such as those in the Black Cluster, which destroyed the S.S. Vico in 2368), and high levels of radiation (page 225) make clusters interesting for astrophysicists and ships’ navigators. Since clusters often serve as stellar nurseries, they can host protostars, T Tauri stars, and any number of other anomalous or inchoate bodies. With veritable clouds of planetesimals, thick screens of masking radiation, and the chance of serious damage to unprepared pursuers, clusters make ideal locations for pirate bases or secret starbases near enemy space.
Resembling a black hole that is one proton in diameter in width but many light-years long, cosmic strings (also called superstrings) pose significant dangers to starships. Although they emit energy on characteristic sub-space frequencies, cosmic strings can catch space vessels within their gravitational pull before a ship detects them. Once trapped, a ship may find itself unable to break free before actual contact with the string slices it apart.
The exact nature and formation of cosmic strings remains a mystery. Some scientists speculate that ancient civilizations used them as construction tools to build Dyson spheres and re-arrange solar systems, or as weapons (since a string could easily cut through ships, planets, and even stars). Others believe that cosmic strings constitute the majority of the Galaxy’s dark matter.
Hydrogen and other interstellar dust with no ambient or radiant energy remains dark. Such “dark matter” may comprise as much as 90 percent of the universe, and any given type of dark matter may vary as much as (or even more than) normal matter does. Without radiant energy, light, radio waves, or subspace emissions.
Crews cannot study such matter at a distance; probes or ships must take physical samples for analysis. With 90 percent of the universe to study, this can take some time. Hence, even in the 24th century, the exact properties and potentials of dark matter remain mysterious and open to your use for episode hooks or twists.
Stars, nebulae, and other energetic bodies occasionally emit streams of electrically-charged dust and gas particles, called ion storms. Ion Storms can pose a danger to ships or planets. Ion storms (page 231) continuously accelerate until they disburse. A given storm usually extends across only a few thousand kilometers, trailing perhaps a million kilometers in length. Even worse, they are difficult to detect, regardless of size. Starfleet rates ion storms in levels from 1 to 10 (occasionally higher), depending on their intensity. Ion storms can wreak havoc with the navigation and control systems of starships, or even kill unprotected crew in scientific pods or shuttlecraft. Very intense ion storms (level 6 and stronger), such as that around the planet Halka in 2267, can interfere with transporters or even alter the local field density between parallel universes!
While most supernovae lead to the creation of new protostars, a few supergiant stars somehow survive these massive explosions, then collapse again to cause another supernova. Known as Lazarus stars, these stars are surrounded by miniature nebulae consisting of nested shells of ionized gases. Any planets or asteroids able to survive the repeated stellar explosions possess rich amounts of radioactives, heavy metals, and exotic substances (like dilithium), making the potential hazards of such systems worth braving for daring miners (especially during times of shortage or need, such as the Dominion War). The Kavis Alpha neutron star, studied by Dr. Paul Stubbs with the help of the U.S.S. Enterprise D in 2366, explodes every 196 years, making it one of the most regular and powerful Lazarus stars known.
Clouds of interstellar gas and dust, nebulae range in size from relatively small planetary nebulae (usually under one cubic light-year, blown out by a supernova) to immense interstellar nebulae stretching across whole sectors. Some interstellar nebulae first began as planetary nebulae; others are protostars, or even entire stellar nurseries, that failed to form. In general, planetary nebulae are thicker and more energetic than interstellar nebulae. Starfleet assigns nebulae alphabetic classes: Class-J nebulae are high in dark matter (see sidebar) and ionized gas, Class-T nebulae emit high levels of radiation, the Class-C “Mutara class” blanks all visual and tactical sensors and interferes with shields. Starfleet’s science teams also use numerical nebulae classes running from Class 1 through Class 17. These numbers do not correspond directly with the nebula’s energy level or thickness, as these vary in individual nebulae and over time, but with their basic structure and composition. In many Class 11 and Class 17 nebulae, phaser fire (or directed positron beams) can ignite active gases such as sirillium with effects similar to a small, localized plasma storm (see page 232).
In such particularly thick or energetic nebulae, combat can become tense and deadly, even reduced to a duel of nakedeye torpedo targeting and sheer piloting instinct. Malfunctioning weapons systems (or the strange effects of nebula radiation on the ship’s personnel) may force the Crew to improvise tactics, replacement equipment, or both. A Crew needs both skill and luck to survive such an encounter.
Stars with masses over one and a half times that of Earth’s sun do not remain white dwarfs after they age. The star’s gravity pulls the white dwarf’s stellar material inward, collapsing it into neutronium, a hyperdense form of matter that not even Starfleet technology can manipulate. Neutron stars, since they are dark and gravitically powerful, can pose serious navigational hazards.
Plasma Fields and Storms
In subspatially or temporally unstable sectors the interstellar hydrogen often accretes into dangerous plasma disruptions, discharging across lightyears in showers of fiery energy. In some sectors (such as the Cardassian border Badlands) the plasma disruptions create a continuous plasma field which becomes a grave hazard to navigation. Sometimes a plasma field moves through space, creating a “plasma storm.” Like ion storms, Starfleet rates plasma storms on a scale from 1 to 10 based on their intensity.
A protostar is a cloud of gas and dust in the process of collapsing into a star and planets. Protosiar clouds are fairly thin, so ships can move through them at up to warp 1 without danger. Close to the developing star the nebula becomes much denser; there, ships cannot travel at more than half maximum impulse speed (0.5 c) because the dense gas can literally melt the hull at high speeds. Protostars also emit powerful waves of magnetoscopic radiation, which interferes with sensors, navigation, and communications systems. In addition, showers of meteoroids commonly occur within protostar clouds, and some protostars host photonic life forms.
Most neutron stars become pulsars, spinning rapidly in periods from approximately one millisecond to almost five seconds. As it spins, a pulsar emits powerful energy pulses (anything from radio waves, to X-rays, to visible light). The pulses occur at regular intervals, though these intervals slowly increase as the pulsar ages. Thanks to these pulses, pulsars often serve as “navigational beacons” for spacefaring species. Starfleet rates pulsars at power levels from 1 through 10.
Although ships rarely encounter planets in interstellar space, such rogue planets do occasionally appear. They are usually either wrenched from their home star system by some cosmic catastrophe such as a passing black hole or a supernova explosion, or they are constructed planets such as Yonada or Gothos, sent on their mysterious journey by a builder race or some immensely powerful being. Depending on the builders’ technological capacity, such a world might support life in its hollow interior, or somehow maintain an atmosphere and energy source in deep space. Without such support, a terrestrial planet knocked away from a star will rapidly become Class-F or G (see “Planetary Classifications,” page I71). A large enough rogue Class-J world just might be able to generate enough heat internally to support life on a Class-M moon around it, a truly amazing chance that would divert any passing ship with an ounce of scientific curiosity.
Shockwaves / Nucleonic Wavefronts
Imploding or exploding stars or planets create immense ripples of force called shockwaves. These propagate from the source, and occasionally carry or create ion storms, plasma storms, and other energetic effects as they move. Supernova shockwaves can eventually travel tens of light-years before fading out. Nucleonic energy sources (some pulsars, alien artifacts, and explosive subspace anomalies) create wavefronts high in nucleonic energy that closely resemble conventional shockwaves in their effects. Nucleonic wavefronts may also interfere with ships’ systems (including warp cores, shields, and sensors) and even the mental state of unshielded crew members. High levels of nucleonic energy can create dangerous mutations in organic matter.
One rare but especially dangerous hazard to starships, and even to some planetbound colonies, is an encounter with space-dwelling (or interstellar-migratory) life-forms. Starfleet and other exploratory services have encountered several such organisms, including the giant amoeba creature that destroyed the USS Intrepid in 2268, the non-corporeal entity which destroyed a Klingon ship at Beta XII-A in 2269, and the Crystalline Entity that devastated Omicron Theta. Some spaceborne life travels in flocks, such as the neural parasites which destroyed Beta Portolan and attacked the Earth colony on Deneva. The autonomous planetsmashing device known as the “Doomsday Machine” could also be considered a form of spaceborne life. Not all spaceborne life is malevolent; the distortion ring being of the Delta Quadrant, although dangerous, seeks only to spread knowledge and communicate, and the Beta Renner gaseous creature was merely lonely.
The chief danger of space-dwelling organisms is their sheer power. The exigencies of space travel mean that most such organisms possess as much power as a starship, and often have extremely potent attacks and defenses. The less intelligent ones, such as the space amoeba, behave in a fairly predictable way, but an intelligent space creature can prove every bit as dangerous as a hostile starship. See Chapter 11: Aliens and Chapter 12: Creatures for advice on creating, and utilizing, such life-forms in episodes.
Subspace is a spatial continuum completely tangent to normal space, but with widely divergent physical laws. Warp engines and subspace radio, crucial elements of interstellar travel, depend on subspace, but can also distort it under the wrong conditions. As befits a continuum built on discontinuous geometries, subspace displays a wide variety of recorded anomalies and other problems which can interfere with a ship’s systems, damage it, allow hostile subspace life-forms access to it, and the like. Given the wide variety of possible effects, subspace is the ultimate plot device for the Narrator; you can attribute virtually any problem to some form of subspace interference, and make that interference as strong or as weak as needed.
Some of the recorded types of subspace anomalies include the following:
A subspace compression anomaly is a rare subspace astronomical phenomenon that miniaturizes objects that enter its accretion disk. These anomalies emit a flux of gamma radiation.
This has the same effect on a ship as powerful gravimetric shear (see page 173 in Chapter 13: Hazards).
This “groove in subspace” can draw in warp-driven ships and move them at speeds of up to 40 light-years per minute.
Also known as an “astral eddy,” a subspace eddy occurs at an interfold between space and subspace, such as near a black hole or a powerful emitter of subspace radiation. Once sufficient stress is built up, a subspace eddy discharges its energies in a plasma storm (see page 160).
Subspace Field Distortions
Warp drives create these as ships travel, which can serve as a means of tracking ships through interstellar space at warp speed. These field distortions can also interact with chaotic space (see sidebar) or with any other subspace phenomenon to produce further subspace anomalies.
Subspace Interphase Pockets
These resemble (and may lead to) chaotic space and sometimes arise where chaotic space intersects with subspace. In a pocket, subspace intrudes into normal space, possibly allowing subspace life-forms or other phenomena to enter normal space.
Also called subspace ruptures, these “tears” in subspace have a gravity-like effect that pulls starships and objects to and into them. to be destroyed by the intense pressure they exert. (Use the gravimetric shear rules on page 173 of Chapter 13: Hazards to simulate the effect of a subspace rift.)
These resemble normal shockwaves, but occur in subspace. They disrupt or (if strong enough) damage ship systems depending on subspace (particularly subspace radio). Their effects on physical objects, planets, or ships themselves, for example are much weaker.
This phenomenon, common around black holes and other disruptive anomalies, can hamper or even prevent a starship from generating a stable warp field (and thus from attaining warp speed). Starfleet has banned research into Omega particles because they can create subspace turbulence.
Also called “subspace funnels” these resemble wormholes in many respects.
T Tauri Star
Normal, or “main-sequence,” stars experience a T Tauri stage at an early point during their stellar evolution. In this stage, a star loses much of its light metals (including solar lithium), which it emits in an enormous “T Tauri wind” that blows billions of kilometers into space. This wind is highly energetic and can interfere with many ship’s systems, and even with organic life nearby. Almost all T Tauri stars are too young to have planets, but exceptions do exist. For example, in 2367, while exploring the Ngame Nebula, the U.S.S. Enterprise-D discovered a T Tauri star with a Class-M planet!
Although most stars have constant (in humanoid terms) brightness, rotation, and other characteristics, some, known as variable stars, alter one or more of their characteristics over relatively short time periods (as little as days or even minutes). For example, Cepheid variables build up stellar energy and release it in nova-like explosions, and flare stars project enormous solar flares; either phenomenon could harm an orbiting ship (for more information, see “Malfunctions,” page 108) or destroy a nearby planet. A ship that knew a variable star’s periodicity could potentially set a stellar ambush for an enemy, striking while the solar flares buffeted the target’s shields and communications.
A wormhole consists of a “tunnel” through subspace that connects two points in normal space-time. They can join points tens of thousands of light-years apart, thus allowing virtually instantaneous travel to otherwise inaccessible regions. Most of them are unstable and fluctuate wildly, possibly destroying or stranding ships passing through them. For example, the Barzan Wormhole has one end that whips between the Gamma and Delta Quadrants with little predictability or warning, while its other end has moved erratically around the Alpha Quadrant planet of the same name with occasional periods of anchorage. The largest and most stable wormhole known is the Bajor Wormhole in the Bajor System. It spans 70,000 light-years between Bajor and the Idran system in the Gamma Quadrant.
Warp engines can destabilize a wormhole, and a sufficiently unbalanced warp engine may occasionally create a dangerous micro-wormhole. Highly advanced races may have the ability create wormholes; the long-vanished Iconian civilization may have harnessed wormhole technology to build its fabled network of gateways.