(covers information from several alternate timelines)
This page contains information regarding Star Trek: Discovery, and thus may contain spoilers.
Dilithium is an element, a member of the hypersonic series, primarily occurring as a crystalline mineral. It was used to control the power of the warp drive systems of many starships by regulating the matter-antimatter reaction in a ship's warp core because of its ability to be rendered porous to light-element antimatter when exposed to high temperatures and electromagnetic pressures. It controlled the amount of power generated in the reaction chamber, channeling the energy released by mutual annihilation into a stream of electro-plasma.
Under certain rare circumstances, dilithium deposits could form in such a way that the crystals grew into perfectly aligned lattices. If enough dilithium was present, it began to form "generator strata". A piezoelectric effect occurred when the crystals took the radiant heat of the planet and converted it into mechanical energy. This mechanical energy could increase tectonic stresses in a planet's crust to the point where the planet literally tore itself apart. This phenomenon was responsible for the destruction of a number of planets in the Selcundi Drema sector.
One method of detecting the potential presence of dilithium deposits during a geological survey was by studying UV absorption patterns. Certain characteristic patterns tended to indicate the presence of traker deposits, which were commonly formed along with the dilithium ore. An ico-spectrogram could then be run to confirm the ore's presence. (TNG: "Pen Pals")
Dilithium could be found on only a few planets in the galaxy, and was therefore a rare and valuable substance.
By the 2250s, the demands of dilithium resulted to extensive mining and ecological damage to those planets. Paul Stamets hoped that the spore drive would provide a viable and renewable alternative to dilithium that would prevent further ecological damage caused by its mining. (DIS: "An Obol for Charon")
In 2267, the Federation attempted to open negotiations with the Halkans to allow the Federation to mine dilithium from their planet, but they refused out of fear that the Federation would one day use their materials for acts of violence. That same year, in the mirror universe, the Halkans refused an explicit demand from the crew of the ISS Enterprise for their dilithium crystals. Standard procedure dictated a phaser barrage on their cities, but Captain James T. Kirk, accidentally sent to the mirror universe, would not allow this. (TOS: "Mirror, Mirror")
In 2270, James T. Kirk offered an Orion captain the dilithium shipment carried by the USS Huron as well as an additional galactic standard weight container of dilithium in exchange for the strobolin that the Huron was bringing them, as they desperately needed it to cure Spock's choriocytosis. (TAS: "The Pirates of Orion")
Dozaria was rich in dilithium, which attracted the Breen to the planet. In 2366, they forced the Ravinok to crash on the planet and put the survivors to work in the dilithium mine. (DS9: "Indiscretion")
Dukat and Damar were able to trick Captain K'Temang into believing the Groumall was carrying refined dilithium crystals by modifying the Cardassian freighter's subspace transceiver array to emit a false dilithium signal. (DS9: "Return to Grace")
Lyndsay Ballard said that dilithium extraction was always one of B'Elanna Torres' specialties. (VOY: "Ashes to Ashes") Torres helped Neelix prepare for a mining operation by giving him material to study on dilithium geophysics. (VOY: "Phage")
In 3068 Dilithium across the galaxy ignited spontaneously in a disastrous event known as The Burn. Federation starships still used dilithium as a critical piece of their power systems, and as a result starships, starbases, and other infrastructure were suddenly destroyed, leading to the decimation and apparent demise of the Federation. (DIS: " That Hope Is You, Part 1")
Dilithium as a power source
|Warning! This section may contain spoilers for new Star Trek material.|
While the early Earth NX-class starships utilized dilithium matrices in their warp cores, (ENT: "Affliction") during the mid-2260s, Constitution-class also used crystallized lithium. (TOS: "Mudd's Women")
Housed in a dilithium crystal converter assembly, the crystals were used as a power source as well as a regulator. Dependency on that power meant the starships risked losing the ability to maintain an orbit, let alone use of their warp drive, when a number of dilithium crystals were drained of their power or became fused in their assembly. In some circumstances, crystals could be re-amplified to provide continued service, rather than replaced. Alternatively, crude crystals might be used, though their unusual shapes could affect the energy flow in unpredictable and potentially catastrophic ways. (TOS: "The Alternative Factor", "Elaan of Troyius")
In or around 2257, Me Hani Ika Hali Ka Po, a member of the Xahean royal family, built an incubator to recrystallize dilithium. (ST: "Runaway") However, Starfleet did not have this ability until at least the 2280s. During a time travel mission from 2286 to 1986, Spock and Montgomery Scott developed a method of recrystallizing dilithium through exposure to high-energy photons from the toxic nuclear fission reactors of that era. (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home)
By the 2360s, Starfleet had the ability to re-crystallize dilithium while it was still enclosed in the warp core's dilithium articulation frame using a theta-matrix compositor. This was done by recompositing fractured crystals. (TNG: "Time Squared", "Relics"; VOY: "Innocence")
In 2372, the USS Voyager discovered a new form of dilithium in the Delta Quadrant that remained stable at much higher reaction rates, thus allowing a vessel to travel more efficiently at much higher speeds. This dilithium was installed aboard the shuttlecraft Cochrane to test an experimental warp 10 flight. (VOY: "Threshold")
Known dilithium sources
- Coridan (ENT: "Shadows of P'Jem"; TOS: "Journey to Babel"; DS9: "One Little Ship")
- Corvan II (DIS: "The Butcher's Knife Cares Not for the Lamb's Cry")
- Dozaria (DS9: "Indiscretion")
- Elas (TOS: "Elaan of Troyius")
- Halkan homeworld (TOS: "Mirror, Mirror")
- Kelis' homeworld (VOY: "Muse")
- Remus (Star Trek Nemesis)
- Rura Penthe ("Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country"; ENT: "Judgment")
- Selcundi Drema sector (TNG: "Pen Pals")
- Troyius (TOS: "Elaan of Troyius")
- Xahea (ST: "Runaway")
|Elements:||Kryptonite • Stoogeium • Stoogeian • Purseronite • Princessium • Tngonian • Estonianium • Dilithium • Curly • Poi|
|Other series:||Gamma series • Omega series • World series • Transonic series • Mega series|
Scientifically, use of the prefix "di-" denotes two atoms, suggesting dilithium consists of two atoms of lithium. However, lithium, being a metal, should not be able to exist in this state, as metals cannot form diatomic molecules. "Real" dilithium (two lithium atoms in a covalent bond) is only currently known to exist as a gas.
According to Star Trek Encyclopedia, originally, lithium was said to be used to control the warp reaction, but it was quickly realized that since lithium was a real element, with known properties, it would not be able to do some of the things the writers wanted it to do.
According to the Star Fleet Medical Reference Manual, (p. 17) dilithium's symbol was Dl, and it had the atomic weight 315 and atomic number 119. It was first discovered by Humans as early as 2049 on the "fifth moon of Jupiter", which would be Io by today's numbering.
Dilithium was also mentioned in a deleted scene from the Star Trek: Enterprise first season episode "Two Days and Two Nights". In this scene, dilithium was the payment to the Risians for the shore leave of several crew members on the planet Risa.
In the script of Star Trek but not the final version of that film, the prime version of Montgomery Scott was said to have discovered not transwarp beaming, but the correct field equation to recrystallize dilithium, which was what made transwarp beaming possible.
Star Trek Online introduced dilithium as a currency in its fifth season, "Call to Arms".