A stardate was a type of date expressed as a decimal number, e.g. 83164.0. It was widely recognized by several major governments of the Alpha Quadrant and Beta Quadrants, and it was the official dating system used by the United Federation of Planets.
The teleplay of TNG: "Encounter At Farpoint" dated April 13, 1987 contains stardates ranging from 42353.7 to 42372.5. This was changed to 41153.7-41174.2 on the air, consistent with the following description in Star Trek: The Next Generation Writer's/Director's Guide of March 23, 1987 (page 13):
A stardate is a five-digit number followed by a decimal point and one more digit. Example: "41254.7." The first two digits of the stardate are always "41." The 4 stands for 24th century, the 1 indicates first season. The additional three leading digits will progress unevenly during the course of the season from 000 to 999. The digit following the decimal point is generally regarded as a day counter.
As in TOS, stardates from the first season of TNG would sometimes decrease with time. In one noticeable example Tasha Yar's death occurs around 41601.3, but she was alive in episodes with greater stardates such as "The Big Goodbye", set around stardate 41997.7. By the sixth season, "consecutively" had replaced "unevenly" from the above quote, consistent with the lack of decreasing stardates in later seasons of TNG. In addition, the 1992-93 revision includes changed text regarding the decimal place, reiterating the Original Series rule:
A Stardate is a five-digit number followed by a decimal point and one more digit. Example: "46254.7". The first two digits of the Stardate are "46." The 4 stands for the 24th Century, the 6 indicates sixth season. The following three digits will progress consecutively during the course of the season from 000 to 999. The digit following the decimal point counts tenths of a day. Stardate 45254.4, therefore, represents the noon hour on the 254th "day" of the fifth season. Because Stardates in the 24th Century are based on a complex mathematical formula, a precise correlation to Earth-based dating systems is not possible.
In actual fact, 1,000 stardate units elapsed in approximately one year, as demonstrated by numerous references in dialogue to events from previous seasons. The 'century' digit was elaborated upon as early as TNG: "Future Imperfect", where the imaginary Jean-Luc Riker asks the computer to display his birthday party of stardate 58416, less than sixteen years in the future of 2367. The initial digit may have been inspired by the 24th century, but in-universe it changes once a decade.
The writers of the Star Trek Chronology further developed the system by having a calendar year start at 000 and end at 999, although this does not fit all references in the show, such as a Diwali celebration around stardate 44390, too early in the year according to the simplified system. Stardate 41986.0 was in 2364 according to TNG: "The Neutral Zone", hence the simplified system assumes that stardates 41xxx.x covered the entire year 2364, stardates 42xxx.x the entire year 2365 and so forth. As stated in Star Trek Chronology (page 95):
The year 2323 works out as the zero point for the system of stardates developed for Star Trek: The Next Generation, assuming that the beginning of year 2364 (the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation) was stardate 41000, and that stardates progress at 1000 units per year. In other words, under the Next Generation system of stardates, January 1, 2323 would seem to correspond to stardate 0. This probably shouldn't be taken too seriously, because Star Trek's stardates have never been too internally consistent, but we're mentioning it here because it's kinda fun.
The second digit increased every season in other spin-offs as well. Since DS9 premiered during the sixth season of TNG, it was set in exactly the same year (2369), so stardates on DS9 ranged from 46379.1 to 52861.3. Likewise, the first season of Voyager (2371) would have been the eighth season of TNG had it continued, so Voyager stardates ranged from 48315.6 to 54973.4. In at least one draft of the script, Star Trek Nemesis had a stardate of 47844.9, but the initial digits were changed to '56' for the film, consistent with Riker having been Picard's "trusted right arm for fifteen years." However, stardates of events prior to "Encounter At Farpoint", but not so far back as the time of TOS, do not always conform to this method of counting. According to the Star Trek Chronology:
Editors' confession: In "Dark Page" (TNG), an entry in Lwaxana's journal dated stardate 30620.1 is established to be during the year in which she got married, 2328. Unfortunately, under the Star Trek: The Next Generation system of stardates (which allocates 1,000 stardate units per year, and puts the beginning of year 2364 at stardate 41000) the beginning of the year 2328 should be around stardate 5000. Star Trek technical consultant (and Chronology co-author) Mike Okuda decided that a four-digit stardate would be confusing since this sounds like an Original Series number, so he arbitrarily picked 30620, even though it is not consistent with stardates used elsewhere in the show.
Notes and references Edit
- Stardate at Memory Alpha, the Star Trek wiki
- Stardate at Memory Beta, the non-canon Star Trek wiki
- Determining Calendar Dates from Stardates - our most relied-upon site for calculating stardates
- The Stardate FAQ - primarily develops one particular theory of stardates that has gained some currency
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