Some thoughts on the inconsistencies of Star Trek cartography, or why it makes no sense that Sisko can get from Earth to Deep Space Nine in a week when it's supposed to take Voyager 70 years to cover 70,000 light years.


Map Layout

The Traditional View of the Star Trek Galaxy

Alpha Quadrant Beta Quadrant Gamma Quadrant Delta Quadrant

[Traditional Trek Map]

As far as I can tell, the lack of a comprehensive and canonical map of the Star Trek universe is a deliberate omission. After more than 30 years of boldly going where no stellar cartographer has gone before, there are far too many contradictions in distance and placement between even the most familiar and frequently visited locations for one to be possible!

But while there isn't a detailed map of the Alpha Quadrant or Federation space available, there are several high level maps of the Star Trek galaxy out there. The map opposite is a fairly faithful representation of what the majority of them look like. It is based on the maps published in The Star Trek Fact Files, The Star Trek 30 Years Official Collectors Edition, and the CD-ROM version of the Star Trek Encyclopedia, all of which are licensed by Paramount and can be considered to have a certain official status. There is a slightly different map in the book version of the Star Trek Encyclopedia; but although it shows Klingon and Romulan territory spilling over into the Alpha Quadrant, and places the Klingons "below" the Federation on the map, it is still recognisably based on the same principles.

As my own maps diverge from the one shown here in a number of important ways, I thought that perhaps a few words of explanation were in order.

Earth And The Federation

Mapping convention places Earth on the border between the Alpha and Beta Quadrants, and generally places it approximately 32,000 light years from the centre of the galaxy. Since this agrees reasonably well with astronomical measurements, I've chosen to follow this convention and use the location of Earth as my base point for placing everything else.

The United Federation of Planets is generally shown as being partly in the Beta Quadrant, although the majority of it is in the Alpha Quadrant. The official line on this is that it was done to explain away a line in Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan, where Kirk stated that the Enterprise was the only starship in the quadrant. I've chosen to follow this placement of the Federation, partly because there seems no good reason not to, and partly because it makes the placement of the next planet possible...


The location of Vulcan has not been shown on any map of the Star Trek galaxy that I've seen, nor has it been mentioned in any episode or film. It has, however, been identified as being in a particular star system in a number of non-canon sources: as either Epsilon Eridani or 40 Eridani (also known as Omicron 2 Eridani), both of which are real star systems. And, proving that Rain Robinson is not the only astronomer to also be a science fiction fan, three astronomers from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics wrote an article for the July 1991 issue of Sky & Telescope Magazine in which they, together with Gene Roddenberry, evaluated the two systems and concluded that 40 Eridani was the more likely candidate of the two. Well, I wouldn't want to argue with Roddenberry, so I've followed their lead in placing Vulcan where 40 Eridani ought to be.

And, unless I've got my three-dimensional trigonometry wildly wrong, the position of 40 Eridani relative to Earth would put it in the Beta Quadrant. Which makes a certain kind of sense, since when the Romulans left Vulcan to set up home on their own, they chose to settle elsewhere in that quadrant.

Bajor, Deep Space Nine and the Cardassian Union

Not that you can see it at this scale, but I did try to work out the placement of Bajor rather more scientifically than has been done in the past!

All the other maps that I've seen show it at a most unlikely 10,000 light years or so from Earth. The entire United Federation of Planets is supposed to be no more than that! Taking Voyager's progress of 1,000 light years per year as a general rule of thumb, it would take a ship about 10 years to cross that distance. And yet Benjamin and Jake Sisko have done the journey in a week, give or take a day, according to what they say about when they packed in The Search: 1 [DS9]. And it seems to be a similarly short commute to and from Qo'noS, the Klingon Homeworld. We don't know exactly where Bajor and the nearby Deep Space Nine are, but we do know from Fascination [DS9] that they are about 300 light years from Regulus, a real star which is in turn about 85 light years from Earth, tucked just inside the Beta Quadrant.

This would put Bajor so close to Earth that if I were to place the two planets accurately, one would overlay and hide the other on the map. But then, if I showed the planets at the correct scale, it would have to be an extremely large map in order to allocate them so much as a pixel as a location marker, let alone make them visible! So, I've settled for putting Bajor on the Federation border but reasonably close to Earth, and I've placed it in the Alpha Quadrant. Because of the greater usage of the Klingons in Deep Space Nine in recent seasons, with its implication that it can take no more than a few days to travel to Qo'noS - and because the same would appear to be true of Cardassia - I have placed Bajor midway between the Klingon Empire and the Cardassian Union.

Of course, I had to move the Cardassian Union in order to do it! But then, like Bajor, Cardassia as shown on the top map is too far away from the people and places it so frequently interacts with. It makes much more sense to have it close to Klingon territory, with just Deep Space Nine between them as waystation, meeting ground and battlefield, rather than the whole of Federation space.

The Klingon and Romulan Star Empires

I've left these pretty much where convention normally places them, adjoining the Federation's borders in the Beta Quadrant. Romulus and Remus are placed close to the border of the Neutral Zone between the Federation and Romulan territory, in accordance with Mr Spock's map in Balance Of Terror [TOS]. (We will, however, gloss over the fact that the map showed Remus as "Romii", since that name seems to be erroneous. I can only assume that Starfleet maps of Romulan space were less than accurate, which seems perfectly reasonable when you consider that Federation ships were barred by treaty from entering the Neutral Zone, let alone the Romulan space beyond it.)

And I have arbitrarily placed Qo'noS close to the Klingon-Federation border, if only because it seems perfectly possible to get there and back from Deep Space Nine within the course of a single episode.

The Gamma Quadrant

The Dominion is a law unto itself, and I'm quite happy for it to remain that way. The Idran system is the closest star system to the Gamma Quadrant entrance of the Bajoran wormhole. I've therefore placed it some 70,000 light years from Bajor and left it at that.

The Delta Quadrant

The Delta Quadrant is still reasonably virgin territory so far as Star Trek is concerned, and as such can be considered fair game. Prior to Voyager being lost there, little more was known of it than that the Borg originated there.

Of all the quadrants, it's probably the easiest to attempt to chart. Exploration of the Gamma Quadrant probably fans out from the wormhole in all directions, and with no references to the location of planets relative to each other it's difficult to guess what might be where. But Voyager's direction is known, more or less, and it's therefore a lot easier to plot the planets that the ship encounters along its journey - starting with Ocampa, some 70,000 light years from its starting point of Deep Space Nine. And, since the Enterprise-D didn't stick around in the Delta Quadrant in Q Who? [TNG] for long enough to do much mapping, there's little to contradict what Voyager finds there.

Except for Voyager itself, of course. But we'll get to the question of whether there are two planets called Ilidaria or whether Voyager was flying in circles between Parallax and Cathexis elsewhere...

My Version of the Star Trek Galaxy

[My Galaxy Map]

The changes that I've made to the layout of the Star Trek galaxy have largely been made for the specific purpose of reducing the implausibility of some of the distances travelled to manageable levels. As a result, the known space in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants is compressed together, and the most frequently visited planets are grouped together reasonably closely. Not close enough, perhaps, for some of those journeys to take the week or less they often seem to on screen... but that is largely due to the necessities of the scale at which the maps have had to be produced, and to the fact that there are some inconsistencies in the information that has been given about these planets over the years that cannot be entirely resolved, just overlooked a little!

And maybe it shouldn't matter anyway, but all this careless expansiveness in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants does rather tend to negate the impact of the vast distance Voyager has to travel home. When you show Deep Space Nine and Bajor 10,000 light years from Earth and then have Sisko do the journey in a week, it's hard to explain why Voyager couldn't make it home in no more than a couple of months. That potentially 70 year journey doesn't look nearly as daunting as it should.

Starfleet really hasn't explored much of our galaxy at all, even in the twenty-fourth century. Even if you assume that they know a lot more than is probable about their neighbours' space (and I don't see the Romulans, the Cardassians or the Klingons handing over any maps), that Federation space has been fully explored, and that they've been very busy in the Gamma Quadrant, they can't possibly have explored more than 5% of the galaxy. That's what made the discovery of a stable wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant such a big deal, and makes the mapping that Voyager is doing as it goes along take on a whole new significance and value. It's all too easy to lose sight of that, and in doing so to lose something of the sense of wonder at the voyage of exploration... and the long trek home.