Stealth technology in Star Trek has always been unreliable for people in spaceships and reliable for the public. First introduced in the Romulan-centric ’60s episode “Balance of Terror,” spaceships with cloaking devices are virtually invisible, and thus a huge deal-breaker for ethical members of the Federation, who mostly lack camouflage technology.
But now there’s a new kind of cloaking technology in the Star Trek universe, and it’s powered by a mysterious variety of crystals called “Chimerium.” What’s funny is that Chimerium isn’t new at all. It originated in the Star Trek novels and has recently made its way into the Trek canon.
To understand everything, we met one of the advisers of Star Trek: Prodigy – Trek novelist David Mack – who told us about the origin of Chimerium and how it fits into what you think you know about cloaking technology. Spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Prodigy, Episode 7, “First Contact”.
What is the Chimerium?
In the latest episode of Prodigy, “First Con-tact”, Dal and the crew of the Protostar meet Dal’s adoptive mother, a Ferengi thief who also tries to scam Dal. But the game-changing thing here is something brewing in Prodigy for a while the idea that certain types of cloaking devices could be powered by Chimerium crystals.
The crystals that Dal and everyone else were forced to extract by the Seer in the very first episode are, in fact, Chimerium crystals, used primarily by the Seer to cloak his entire penal colony. As for the on-screen Trek canon, Chimerium was recently introduced by Prodigy, but it is not a new concept.
The literary origin of Chimerium
Before Prodigy, Chimerium debuted in a series of books titled Star Trek: SCE, which stands for Starfleet Corps of Engineers. In the news Invincible – written by David Mack and Keith RA DeCandido – the Chimerium stuff first appeared because, as Mack says, “I needed a lens for the workers”.
His idea was that Chimerium is “a substance that is useful for blocking and/or reflecting sensors”. The name, as you might have guessed, comes from “chimera”, something that was made from other elements. In Mack’s Chimerium design, the crystal is a mineral compound of various elements.
How Chimerium became canon for Prodigy
Incorporating this non-canon crystal into the actual visual canon of Trek was pretty organic. Mack explains it this way:
“At the start of the development of Star Trek: Prodigy, when the Hageman Brothers were still developing their detailed final proposal for Alex Kurtzman, they hired me as their expert Star Trek consultant. The Hagemans described to me the setting and purpose of mining on the planetoid Tars Lamora. They wanted the Protostar to be hidden inside the planetoid, and that their villain, the Diviner, has searched for the ship there for many years, if not decades.
Because sensors in the Star Trek universe should have easily found a spacecraft no matter how deep it was buried in the planetoid, I suggested to the Hagemans that it might be a good idea if the planetoid was rich in a compound that blocks sensors. . This would explain why the Diviner was forced to resort to such brute-force research methods, while giving him a valuable resource he could trade to fund his ongoing research. The Hagemans thought that sounded like a good idea and asked me to recommend such a compound. I immediately suggested Chimerium, a stuff that seemed tailor-made for their story needs, and they agreed it suited them well.
How is Chimerium different from “normal” camouflage?
In Prodigy last episode, “First Con-tact”, Dal and the crew not only lose the chance to get a Chimerium cloaking device, but also lose their entire Chimerium supply. Naturally, the young crew of the Protostar was quite excited about the possibility of having a cloaking device plugged into their ship, mainly because it would help keep them safe. But if you were wondering if Chimerium has always been needed to power the cloaking devices in Star Trek’s canon, the answer is no. The specific type of “Cape Chimerium” is new to Star Trek: Prodigy, and we actually saw the Diviner use it in the second episode of the series.
Other than using these specific crystals, how is this type of cloaking device different from the ones we’ve seen in Trek before? Mack says the biggest difference is that Chimerium “is like a natural stealth,” because it doesn’t literally make the ship “invisible”.
“The kinds of cloaking devices we usually see used by Klingons and Romulans use an artificially generated energy field to bend both visible light and sensor beams, making their spacecraft literally invisible and also hiding them. sensors,” says Mack. “Chimerium is a mineral compound that blocks, bends, or reflects sensor beams.”
So that means if someone was looking out the window, a ship using a Chimerium cloak would likely be visible to the naked eye. But if you tried to search for this ship with sensors or other types of scanning equipment, you wouldn’t find anything. What Prodigy did is canonized technology from the Star Trek novels, which allows starships to hide in plain sight.
Considering how cool this kind of tech is as part of the endlessly engrossing Star Trek starship canon, it would be shocking if this tech was limited only to Prodigy. We should probably be on the lookout for Chimerium in other upcoming Trek shows, assuming, of course, we even know how to find it.
Star Trek: Prodigy streams on Paramount+