There are numerous space battles where a Star Trek phasers is used, or photon torpedo are fired, and they miss their target. Wouldn’t that phaser blast continue forever until it comes into contact with a solid object like a planet, star, or asteroid?
If phasers would act like lasers, then the beam would spread as it travels through space. In theory, that is correct: the beam continues to travel indefinitely, but as it spreads, it becomes weaker. And after traveling far enough, it will become invisible — kind of like pointing a small pocket laser at Mars.
By the time the laser beam gets there, and it has spread out so much that it wouldn’t be noticeable. Even if they’re a culminated beam of Nadion particles (a process known as the Rapid Nadion effect occurs within the crystal, and large amounts of energy from the strong nuclear force is released with the nadion particles creating the particle beam from the phaser), they become less powerful as distance increases.
Let’s see what if phasers wouldn’t act like a laser. In some theory, Star Trek phasers do not fire laser beams. They’re called phasers because they emit phased plasma. That plasma would disperse over distance, even with excellent containment. If that plasma hits some planet, the time and distance that plasma needs to reach that planet would be significant. Essentially, considering the enormous size of the universe, when it hits some planet over time, it would be no more dangerous than a solar flare from an average distance such as from the Sun to Earth.
What about torpedo?
Photon torpedo is a different story. It would continue onward until it struck something. One assumes that they automatically disarm after some time. Nevertheless, at the velocities dealt within outer space, even a disarmed torpedo casing would pose a threat if it struck an unshielded object.
So, it assumed, torpedoes have a “distance limit” and will detonate after a set distance is traveled and far enough away from objects.
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