Despite the acclaim as the most scientifically-researched literary device in 20th Century science fiction, does the Omega molecule still qualify as the most dangerous substance in the Star Trek universe?
By: Ringo Bones
Despite being a “mere science fiction magic wand / literary science fiction device” at the moment, many a Star Trek fan at the time of this famed molecule’s introduction in an episode of Star Trek Voyager titled “Omega Directive” really saw the Omega molecule as such because around this time – around June 5, 1995 – college students working at the University of Colorado at Boulder’s NIST-JILA lab named Eric Cornell and Carl Wieman finally synthesized the famed Bose Einstein Condensate which was first theorized by Albert Einstein and Satyendra Nath Bose as far back as 1924. Near the end of 1997, Dr. Robert L. Whetten, Professor of Physics and Chemistry at Georgia Tech and his team were able to synthesize gold cluster molecules with “extraordinary quantum particles” which at the time was the closest thing we humans have of an “actual” Omega molecule. But what is this Omega molecule anyway?
In the Star Trek universe, the Omega molecule was a highly unstable molecule believed to be the most powerful substance known to exist. With sufficient amounts of Boronite – an ore in the Star Trek universe containing high amounts of stable ultra-heavy transuranic elements that can only be found in star systems that were born out of a hypergiant star’s Type 1a supernova explosion powerful enough to be able to synthesize such stable ultra-heavy transuranic elements – the Omega molecule could be synthesized. However, proper containment methods did not yet exist in Captain Janeway’s time to prevent the violent destabilization of the Omega molecule, which destroyed subspace and rendered warp speed travel impossible. The explosion of a single Omega molecule was found out to be able to destroy all subspace in a 7-light-year radius. Some cosmologists in the Star Trek universe theorized that that the Omega molecule existed in nature at the instant of the Big Bang, when the universe as we know it was born. Presumably, an Omega molecule would be so energetic that a small chain of molecules would be able to power a space-faring civilization for millions of years.
To most Star Trek fans – including me – our knowledge of the Omega molecule came to us via the Star Trek Voyager episode titled Omega Directive where Captain Janeway discovered that another civilization in the Delta Quadrant was actually successful in synthesizing some 200-million Omega molecules in the year 2374. The said civilization was able to keep the molecules stable by using the Omega molecule’s own resonant frequency of 1.68-terahertz to calibrate their containment field. Unfortunately, a freak mishap devastated their research facility that rendered warp speed travel in that part of space impossible. The starship USS Voyager managed to neutralize the remaining molecules before they could do further damage to the region’s subspace.
Seven of Nine then adopted the Borg’s harmonic resonance chamber design to emit an inverse frequency which would dissolve Omega’s inter-atomic bonds without the resulting catastrophic subspace rupture. Seconds before the harmonic resonance chamber was jettisoned into space, the molecules started to stabilize spontaneously and remained stable for at least 3.2 seconds. The remaining Omega molecules were destroyed via a modified gravimetric torpedo.
The Omega Directive was born out of the aftermath of a scientific experiment that seriously went wrong and almost destroyed the United Federation of Planet’s ability to travel at warp speed in the Alpha Quadrant. The directive is only revealed to starship captains and higher up flag officers in the Federation. The directive came to pass after an incident where a single Omega molecule was synthesized in the late 23rd Century by the Federation physicist Dr. Ketteract on board a classified research station located deep in the Lantaru Sector. The molecule remained stable for a fraction of a second before it catastrophically exploded, killing 127 leading Federation scientists and subsequently destroying subspace throughout the Lantaru Sector through rupturing. The secondary effect of the scientific experiment gone catastrophically haywire is that after the incident, it is now impossible to create a stable warp field throughout the Lantaru Sector thus complicating rescue efforts of possible survivors. The powers-that-be of the United Federation of Planets covered the tragic incident up at the time and since then the impossibility of warp speed travel in the Lantaru Sector was explained away as a “natural phenomena”.
As revealed in the Star Trek Voyager episode titled Omega Directive, it was believed that the Borg were the first ones to attempt in synthesizing the Omega molecule. In the year 2145, the Borg learnt of the Omega molecule’s existence through the knowledge of the top theoretical physicists of the 13 species they recently assimilated at the time and this started an experiment to synthesize a single Omega molecule that remained stable for one-trillionth of a nanosecond. The experiments conducted by the Borg on that Omega particle that destabilized and exploded resulted in the destruction of 29 Borg vessels and 600,000 drones. The Borg, who referred the Omega molecule as “Particle 010” regarded it with near-reverence as they believed it to exist in a flawless state. Because the Borg saw the Omega molecule as “perfection”, all Borg were ordered to assimilate it – and all knowledge regarding it – at any cost. From their data, the Borg designed a harmonic resonance chamber that could theoretically stabilize the molecule, but according to Seven of Nine, the Borg haven’t yet acquired enough Boronite ore to synthesize more Omega molecules since their catastrophic botched attempt.