In our continuing series of Star Trek trivia, we ask:

Why are stardates so different from calendar dates?

A stardate is a timekeeping system which is used to provide a standard galactic temporal reference, compensating for relativistic time dilation, warp speed displacement, and other peculiarities of interstellar space travel. At least, that’s what it’s supposed to do.

Star Chart

In actuality, however, its use has been rather arbitrary among the various series. We usually hear a stardate mentioned at the beginning of a Star Trek episode, where the Captain is making an entry in the Captain’s Log describing the opening scenario.  Over the years, writers and producers have selected numbers using different methods, where some methods are more arbitrary than others, and thus makes it impossible to convert all stardates into equivalent calendar dates. Stardates were originally intended to disguise the precise era of Star Trek, including the specific calendar date, although the era was clarified later on the show.

The Star Trek Guide

The following instructions to writers were transcribed from the series bible Star Trek Guide, third revision, dated April 17, 1967 (page 25). Their original date of composition and the author are unclear, but the sample stardates are consistent with the range from the second pilot.

We invented “Stardate” to avoid continually mentioning Star Trek’s century (actually, about two hundred years from now), and getting into arguments about whether this or that would have developed by then. Pick any combination of four numbers plus a percentage point, use it as your story’s stardate. For example, 1313.5 is twelve o’clock noon of one day and 1314.5 would be noon of the next day. Each percentage point (sic) is roughly equivalent to one-tenth of one day. The progression of stardates in your script should remain constant but don’t worry about whether or not there is a progression from other scripts. Stardates are a mathematical formula which varies depending on location in the galaxy, velocity of travel, and other factors, can vary widely from episode to episode.

What is called a “percentage point” is actually the tenths digit. While this 24-hour increasing stardate with noon at .5 wasn’t always adhered to within episodes, the initial four digits weren’t selected quite as randomly as described here. An overall increase with time can be observed in the above table of stardates, from 1312.4 in the second pilot to 5928.5 in the final episode of the series.

For further information about stardates in the fictional Star Trek universe, see here.

Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License