Point To Ponder #3

OK. First up this one is a bit esoteric – ‘Out There’ –  for most people, but it came up as part of a big project i’m working on and any input is welcomed.


Some background: I’m a long time Star Trek fan. I saw the very first episode on TV when it aired and rarely missed a single episode for the first 2 ‘generations’. I started to waiver a bit around Deep Space Nine and circumstances dictated that i did not have as much time as i might have liked to watch all of Voyager, but i have seen all the movies more than once and so consider myself a fully-fledged Trekkie.

This at times can mean suspending logic for a moment (or an hour – 2 in the case of the movies) when a vital part of the plot depends upon something that is just not right.

In this case it concerns an oft used Star Fleet term: A Quadrant. In ST terms this refers to a region of space that, while all sentient beings can agree to it’s location and dimensions, they might not all agree on who owns it or has the deciding say in matters affecting said region.

The problem (Point To Ponder) is:

How do you divide space up into just four (even) parts?

Related point: Can you draw up a 2 dimensional map of 3 dimensional space that is useful at any other point in that space other than the one you are drawing it from? (Like Earth for example)


A Quadrant means there are four of them and they would normally be considered equivalent in size. The term is borrowed from our old nautical explorers who had maps on sheets of paper that could be divided into four equal quarters based around the concept of North, South, East and West being dividing lines between them, meaning you could have a NW quadrant a SE quadrant and so on. Or you had the Western half of the world and the East half, looking one way, or the North and the South looking the other; combining the two gives you four quadrants – simple!

You can draw a (largely unreal) map of the world that way as, to most of us, the world looks ‘flat’ (like the map is). The map works no matter where in the world you are.

Try this in 3d outer space however and you’re stuffed.

This is because in space you can not only have N,S,E and W but Up and Down as well: 2 of them per dimension. so where as before you had 4 quadrants, now you have two times as many (each one can be split into an Up or a Down quadrant) making 8 ‘Octants’. An octant is actually described in the dictionary as one of 8 equal parts of a sphere. And in space you can move in any direction so you need spherical maps to get around.

Then you have a big problem, because the places you use as reference points for your map (like the sun and the stars which have ‘fixed’ positions or ones you can calculate from visually) seem to change their location as you move the large distances that space travel entails making using them to locate your current position a fairly trick exercise – not one you can do in your head.

So whoever writes the next Star Trek Script – would you PLEASE stop using 16th century definitions that do not apply in outer space! The word is Octant, Not Quadrant.

End of rant!




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