# How do star dates work

Discussion in 'General Trek Discussion' started by RB_Kandy, Sep 6, 2012.

1. ### RB_KandyCommanderRed Shirt

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Often an episode of trek will open with the captain giving a star date. But then never seem to make sense, they sound like "Star date 2341.4"
So it's the year 2341, and it's the fourth month? or would that be the day?
I'm just confused as to how it works.

2. ### MethosFleet CaptainFleet Captain

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Hiding under Gaila's bed...
think this explains it and gives a calculator to work out dates pretty well...

http://trekguide.com/Stardates.htm

it's one i've used before and comes out pretty accurate

M

3. ### Lord GarthCaptainCaptain

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May 7, 2011
1,000 stardates make up a year on TNG, DS9, and VOY. TNG starts with the 41000s, so the second digit always stood for the season.

In TOS, the stardates are four-digits and progressed unevenly and out of order from the 1000s at the beginning of the series to the 5000s at the end. If you leave out TAS, and pretend all five years were covered over three seasons, then the first digit could stand for the year of the mission; but only if you interpret it that way.

In the TOS movies, stardates seem to move much slower. They're still four digits but the first digit seems to represent the decade while the last three digits don't seem to mean much of anything. So TMP has a stardate in the 7000s, TWOK-TFF have stardates in the 8000s, and TUC has a stardate in the 9000s. Don't try to make too much sense out of it passed that.

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Word of God says, in the last film, Stardates were the Earth year-point-day (.1 - .365)

In the Original Series, stardates were random numbers. No order, no nothing.

Next Gen, DS9 and Voyager all used a complicated system based on the season and thousandths of a year.

and even more here: http://memory-beta.wikia.com/wiki/Stardate

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Mar 15, 2001
Stardates aren't supposed to work. The makers of the original series didn't want to pin down exactly how far in the future the show took place, perhaps because they knew how unwise it was to try to predict how quickly technology will advance. While the majority of references seemed to put TOS 2-300 years in the future, at least one episode ("The Squire of Gothos") had references putting it more like 700 years ahead. So stardates were just placeholder numbers, something put in to make it sound like a date had been mentioned, without conveying any actual chronological information of any kind. There was a general trend for the numbers to increase over the course of the series, albeit inconsistently so, and in The Making of Star Trek, Roddenberry offered a handwave explanation about how stardates are calculated differently depending on where you are in space, how fast you're moving, and so on, to explain why a later episode could have a lower stardate.

Even in a single story, the stardates can be wildly inconsistent. In Star Trek: The Motion Picture, you can work out roughly how much time passes between the different stardate references, and they range from under 4 hours per stardate unit to about 32 hours per unit.

When TNG came along, they adopted a practice of treating each season as 1000 stardate units long -- the first season was 41xxx, the second was 42xxx, etc., so if you assume that each season is exactly one year long and begins on January 1, simple arithmetic gives you the stardate scheme used at this site and favored by Pocket Books in its ST novels. Yet the scheme used in the 24th-century shows was never entirely consistent. TNG's first season started off increasing the numbers after "41" steadily, but then, perhaps due to all the staff upheavals, they stopped keeping track and the order became random for most of the season. After that they appointed the script supervisor to make sure the stardates went consistently upward from episode to episode, but there was no attempt to work out any consistent intervals; one episode might increase the numbers by roughly one per day, while another might increase them by six or ten in the course of a day. I don't think they ever really made any effort to stick with the 1000-units-per-year thing, which would make each day about 2.7 units, when it came to the last few digits.

("Pen Pals" is an interesting case. It's meant to span nearly eight weeks and the stardates go up by about 45 units, suggesting it might be around 1 unit per day. And every one of the log entries in the episode ends in ".3," suggesting that Picard always records his log at the same time every day. But that was only in that episode, not afterward.)

And there are episodes whose calendar dates are given or at least suggested, and their stardates don't fit the scheme I linked to above. So despite being slightly more orderly than TOS stardates, TNG/DS9/VGR stardates were still meant to give only the impression of the passage of time rather than containing any real date or time information. And DS9 and VGR (especially DS9) used them less and less as time went on.

The 2009 movie tried to simplify things by making the stardate just the year followed by the number of days into the year, but that has its own problems, like being Earth-centric (as if the "starts on January 1" scheme isn't) when the original suggested something more universal, and also lacking in detail if the smallest interval it measures is a whole day. But I've learned that it's best not to try to divine any real meaning from onscreen stardates. They're not meant to mean anything -- just to sound like they do.

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It would have been better to keep it always nonsensical to give them the freedom to never pin anything down to a particular century. The sensible approach would apply this maxim to all 'future Earth' science fiction, to get rid of the obvious problems it throws up.

7. ### alpha_leonisCaptainCaptain

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May 27, 2001
Sometimes Stardate references might solve continuity problems -- sometimes they create continuity problems.

Example of the former: "Catspaw" (first episode of TOS second season, and therefore the first episode to feature Chekov as a character) has a lower stardate number than "Space Seed" from season 1, which implies that "Catspaw" takes place earlier chronologically in "shipboard time". And that provides an obvious answer to the common TWOK complaint that "Khan shouldn't recognize Chekov because he wasn't there yet".

But then, there were several episodes during season 1 of TNG that were filmed when Denise Crosby was still a member of the cast, but with stardates that occur "after" Yar's death in "Skin of Evil".

In short, they're inconsistent enough to be entirely meaningless.

8. ### ToddPenceFleet CaptainFleet Captain

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On Voyager, the Kazon traitor Jonas is exposed and killed in the epsiode "Investigations" (star date 49485). But in the next episode by stardate, "Life Signs" (49504) he is once again alive and still unsuspected.

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Although the more obvious answer is that there were 430 people on the ship and we didn't actually see every one of them. Just because Chekov wasn't a day-shift bridge officer in season 1, that doesn't mean he wasn't aboard.

10. ### alpha_leonisCaptainCaptain

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I even remember one episode of DS9 when a stardate reference was thrown in delibarately for continuity reasons.

This was about the same time that "Generations" came out in theatres, in which Enterprise-D was destroyed. Very soon after that, Jonathan Frakes appeared as a guest star on Deep Space Nine, playing Thomas Riker (William's transporter clone from "Second Chances"). Thomas was posing as William in the storyline of that episode, in which he makes reference to Dr. Crusher letting him "away from the Enterprise" for a while.

I remember a lot of Trek talk boards being really confused by that -- the episode aired after Generations, but made reference to Enterprise-D still being around. The stardates solved it: the episode actually took place "earlier" in Trek-time than the movie, even though it was filmed later.

11. ### RB_KandyCommanderRed Shirt

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So it would appear that star dates are random numbers in TOS, and are so convoluted and inconsistent in other series, that it might as well be random.

So in my fan fiction that I am writing, I am just going to put down stuff like 1340.4, 1341.3, and 1345.4 and just have the captains log say things like, "one week into the mission, and tensions on the ship are increasing..." and "The tensions of yesterday are decreasing after my pep talk to the crew..." and "A weak after the plot, our ship is nearly at one hundred percent efficiency" and that sort of jazz.
Or if need be I'll just put down "1344.4 (2 days later)" so the reader can get a feel for the passage of time.

I remember as a kid seeing the episode where Kirk was going to be thrown into a grave, and it gave his birth and death date, and I noticed that the dates could not be based on our calender. But was never sure if there was a pattern to this new calender.

And I agree there is a certain wisdom to fictitious dates in a futuristic sci fi, so that no one calls you out on this or that technology being improbable, or this new discovery would have been made a thousand years ago. And if your show is fond of the reset button, and may air out of sequence sometimes, having a non existent date would help with continuity issues a little. No one would call out a time travel episode because they go to a planet that was destroyed a hundred years ago. "You went back in time 50 years, but that planet was destroyed a 100 years ago".

12. ### Lord GarthCaptainCaptain

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May 7, 2011
^ If you're writing a story in the TOS era, just use whatever as long as it's four digits and one passed the decimal point.

If you're setting your story in the TNG era, you have to get the first two digits right. A story set during TNG season 1 (in 2364) should be stardate 41xxx.x. If it's set during TNG season 7 (in 2370) it should be 47xxx.x.

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They work pretty good.

14. ### NrobbieCCommanderRed Shirt

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For TNG era just use this and try not to think about it.

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Although it's worth keeping in mind that the stardates did follow a broadly upward pattern from season to season -- the first season went from the 1000s to the 3000s, the second was mostly the lower 3000s to the upper 4000s, and the third was almost entirely in the 5000s, with the animated series more inconsistent but still largely in the 5000s to 6000s. Then TMP was in the 7000s, the next four films were in the 8000s, and TUC was in the 9000s. Quite an inconsistent rate increase, but if you want to capture the feel of a certain season or era, it might help to pick a number in its range.

16. ### Mr_HomnFleet CaptainFleet Captain

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Jan 30, 2010
How do star dates work?

They don't.

17. ### Lord GarthCaptainCaptain

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May 7, 2011
As I did say in my first post.

I was kind of conceding. We're outnumbered by the "La la la!!! TOS stardates don't mean anything, anything, ANYTHING!" crowd and I wasn't going to belabor my point. I didn't think it was worth it. But the TNG-era stardates are held up to a lot more scrutiny.

18. ### HandoCommanderRed Shirt

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Jan 28, 2011
Does this mean that there is an actual stardate chronological view-order for TOS episodes?

An interesting idea, I will try to watch them in that order.

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Aug 26, 2003
Yeah. While the TOS numbers were intended to be nonsensical, they were also apparently mostly intended to be systematic, with smaller ones indicating earlier dates. In the few cases where the ordering of SD numbers differs from the ordering of production dates, the plotlines actually make more sense if we follow the stardates (say, "Catspaw" coming before "Space Seed" and thus Chekov being aboard to meet Khan), although this is completely unintentional.

But as said, we can go one level further in "makes unintentional sense" here. By choosing to treat TOS stardates exactly like TNG era ones, we witness five years passing between Kirk's first TOS appearance and his last, not mere three. Overall, assuming that a thousand stardates equate one calendar year is a good match for what we see in TOS - up to and including the idea that the three zeroes roll at the beginning of each shooting season, at the end of the summer, rather than at January 1st (say, Thanksgiving in "Charlie X" falling in the middle of the first stardate year).

Of course, any system that can only list years and not decades is impractical for longterm timekeeping. With four digits, the TOS system would have to roll over every ten years; with five digits, the TNG one would have to do that every century. But we can assume Starfleet drops digits much like we do: if I say "Back in sixty-nine", it's understood I refer to 1969 unless the context suggests otherwise. The neat thing here is that this leaves the viewer in the position of being able to pick the decade for a "historical" stardate as he pleases!

In the end, then, the TOS gimmick of using nonsense dates has made it easy and convenient to maintain the Trek timeline. And the later DS9 and VOY practice of failing to mention the stardate at all in the episode makes things even easier.

Timo Saloniemi

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Mar 15, 2001
No, it really, reallllly does not mean that. Remember, we're talking about something that was intended by the creators of a work of fiction to give a general impression of the passage of time. Like an impressionist painting -- if you look at it up close, you can see how rough the brush strokes are and how little it resembles reality, but you're not supposed to look at it up close; you're just supposed to look at the broad strokes and get a general feel for what it's trying to convey.

There was absolutely no intention for the episodes to be watched in stardate order. How could there have been? This was the 1960s. They didn't have home video or streaming internet; they hardly even had reruns. The only possible order to watch the episodes in was the one the network aired them in -- or maybe, if you were lucky, the order that some local station aired them in when they bought the syndication package years later. And the producers had no control over either of those. So of course they didn't make the episodes with any specific viewing order in mind. The stardates were just meaningless numbers. They tried to trend them generally upward as the series progressed, but just roughly, just as a way of giving a broad impression, because they had no way of knowing what order the episodes would actually air in. The best they could do was try to make sure that the stardates toward the end of a season were higher than the ones at the beginning, and that the stardates at the start of the next season were about the same or a bit higher.

If you try to watch TOS and TAS in stardate order, you'd get some very strange results. The first episode would be TAS: "The Magicks of Megas-tu," followed by "Where No Man Has Gone Before." "Patterns of Force" from season 2 would be less than halfway through season 1. TAS: "The Practical Joker" would be late in season 1. "This Side of Paradise" would be immediately after "Amok Time," which seems an unfortunate juxtaposition both in terms of the Spock romance and the Kirk-Spock fight. TAS and season 3 would be largely intermixed. And there are five episodes without known stardates, so where would you put them?

I suppose it wouldn't be completely nonsensical, except for "Megas-tu"; you could assume, say, that Chekov had been on occasional bridge duty in season 1, or that Chekov and Arex were aboard at the same time and were just on different shifts -- though why is everyone else on both shifts? Also you'd have to ignore the design changes in the bridge and engineering between TOS and TAS. If you left out TAS, just went with the live-action seasons, it wouldn't be too bad, aside from the "Amok Time"/"This Side" juxtaposition; in some ways it might make a little more sense than airdate order (since I don't think it makes sense in terms of the Kirk-Rand relationship for "The Corbomite Maneuver" to come after "Miri" as it does in airdate order). Still, I don't see any reason to prefer it over production order.