Where No Man Has Gone Before, and the "edge" of the galaxy

Something occurred to be while I was reading the latest discoveries about our Milky Way galaxy.

Ignoring the fact that the galaxy doesn’t have an “edge”, have I been guilty off “two-dimensions thinking” for the last 50 years? I’ve always assumed that the “edge” of the galaxy that the Valiant and later the Enterprise visited, and the barrier that they went through, was at the edge in the galactic plane. That is, 25000 light years more or less -> that way.

The cinematography of the show leads you to think that. The Enterprise approaches the “barrier” horizontally, like a ship at sea. The barrier can be seen to be a line, not a halo that runs all the way around the galaxy.*

So I always have been annoyed at the episode. Even as a kid, 25K light years was a silly trip. It’s a long way to go for no real gain. They’ve barely scratched the Alpha Quadrant, and they want to go 25K light years without looking at anything along the way? Plus, even at warp 8 it would take oh about 100 years, depending on the Speed of Plot.

But what if they went ^ up instead? It’s only like 1000 lt years more or less to the “edge” of the galaxy going “up”. It makes more sense that way, especially as, assuming the galaxy had an “edge” (or an anti-Borg force field, or whatever it really is), it really should go all the way around, covering the galaxy like a starship’s shields.

So, how many people just assumed the Enterprise went -> thataway? What were your assumptions?

(Maybe the “barrier” is the answer to the “dark matter” question. It actually does enclose the entire galaxy. That not only could explain the barrier’s sensor reading, but be consistent with modern cosmology. “Whatever it is, contact in 12 seconds.”)

*even as a kid, the very first time I saw the episode, I’m like “go over it! you fools!”

Well, I assumed it was in the Galactic Plane, too – after all, there’s nothing keeping you from going normal to that plane, and no clear defining shape like the circle around the galaxy in the galactic plane. I’m not even sure what the “edge” would mean the other way.

Everything I’ve read has assumed that interpretation, even though it doesn’t make a heck of a lotta sense. As David Gerrold observed in The World of Star Trek “It’s like bisecting a sneeze”. There isn’t a definite hard “edge” – the stars just peter out. Gerrold claims, though, that Roddenbery talked to Isaac Asimov about this, and got him to admit that there could be an “energy barrier” at the “edge” of the galaxy.
That said, there’s a long tradition of talking about the Galaxy’s Edge or Rim in written science fiction. A Bertram Chandler set his stories in the “Rim Worlds” at the outer rim of the Galaxy. The term has been adopted by gamers and Star Wars people and Babylon Five. I’ve encountered it elsewhere, too. So the idea has a romanic appeal – traders and smugglers and outlaws live in the far reaches of the Galactic Rim – even if it doesn’t make much sense.

And there’s an automated Starfleet lithium-cracking facility not that many days away from the “edge” - so sometime in the past, the Federation had enough people out there to build that station - and people stop by regularly to pick up the lithium the plant produces, all of which belies the idea that the “edge of the galaxy” is all that remote.

Yeah, I’ve always assumed they meant the “edge” of the galactic plane. The original series made a better effort at scientific rigor and accuracy than pretty much any sci-fi series before it had - but that was a really low bar.

The whole series was very much “sea-going ships - but in space”, with ships approaching each other at warp speed from distant stars - but somehow always in the same horizontal plane.

As to the speed and how long it should have taken to get to the “edge” and how far away that “edge” is - Roddenberry used terms like “warp factor” and “stardates” exactly to avoid those sorts of issues. The Original Series deliberately avoided quantifying speeds and distances and times. They just occasionally made some sort of handwave towards relativistic effects, wrote whatever made the plot work, and called it a (star) day.

Oh yea! “Even the ore ships call only once every twenty years.” So it’s been there quite a while! Maybe if they stopped by a bit more frequently, they wouldn’t have a (di)lithium scarcity. And have to deal with obnoxious people and their necklaces. :slight_smile:

Still like the episode, though, for some reason.

The “Galactic Rim” makes sense: If your travel times (or costs) are proportional to distance at all, then the worlds further away will have less traffic and be less civilized, and if the scale of the travel times or costs is right, you could have the worlds at the far parts of the spiral be close enough to be settled, but far enough to be a frontier.

But yeah, any sort of “energy barrier” would have to encompass the whole Galaxy. I always assumed it was just a sphere, so it’d be equally hard to reach it going galactic north or south, just with less scenery along the way. But sure, there’s no reason that the barrier couldn’t be shaped like a CD case, just big enough to encompass the galactic disk, which would make it much more accessible (though then we have to ask, why had nobody but the Enterprise ever accessed it before?).

What do you mean by this? Are you just saying it’s fuzzy, without well-defined edges?

Well, it’s edge isn’t well defined. It likes the Dead Kennedys, but tastefully.

For the win.

I guess most viewers knew it was just a convention. Everybody connected the dots their own way.

The SS Valiant did before the Enterprise.

It’s like summiting Everest. If you don’t survive the trip, you don’t get the credit.

It was long known that the edge of the Galaxy was moving faster than it should, but nobody could figure out why. It’s now thought this has something to do with dark matter and dark energy, so there could well be some sort of “barrier” there. Though it may be concentrated at the rim, I would expect it to envelop the entire Galaxy.

Galactic rotation speeds are due to dark matter, but dark energy isn’t relevant on scales as small as a single galaxy. And I have no idea what relation dark matter would bear to any sort of concept of a “barrier”.