The NDF Theory
Last Revised: 1999.04.13
The Mechanism: To explain the behaviour of phasers, we theory that phasers must fire special "phaser particles". These particles apparently disintegrate atoms into a shower of neutrinos. A small portion of the mass must transform into new phaser particles (probably with slightly less energy than the original phaser particle, since the chain reactions don't go on indefinitely). Low-energy phaser particles seem to have very different effects from high-energy phaser particles: below the "nuclear disruption force" threshold, they seem to be capable of causing a variety of effects ranging from simple heating to electrical shock effects. The particles must have mass because phaser beams are known to propagate at distinctly sublight speeds in certain situations (particularly hand phaser beams), and they appear to be very short-lived, hence their apparent inability to propagate through gases (where the large inter-atomic spacing apparently causes enough of a delay to prevent continuation of the NDF chain reaction), or across the gaps between a victim's shoes and the ground. This suggests that a phaser beam incorporates some sort of containment or suspension field to keep the particles from decaying- perhaps it is this field (possibly related to subspace?) which accounts for the ability of phasers to be effective against shields in spite of the absence of matter for the NDF reaction.
Theoretical Implications: the theory fits the observed phenomena described on the previous page, and we can also make a few predictions about future behaviour:
In general, carbon-based life forms should be easy to disintegrate because they are dominated by hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen (atomic numbers 1, 6, and 8 respectively), and light elements like this are probably very susceptible to the NDF chain reaction. Silicates and silicon-based life forms should be more difficult to disintegrate.
Phasers should be very effective for planetary surface bombardments, since typical planetary crust compositions are heavily weighted toward light silicates rather than iron or heavy metals. This should allow Federation starships to get a lot of "bang for the buck" by using the chain reaction to destroy large amounts of rock without having to expend a great deal of energy.
Phasers will not be very effective against high-density armour. They will also be very weak against ablative armour, since the chain reaction propagates very poorly through gases and if a violent gas expulsion from ablative armour scatters the beam, it will not be effective.
Additional Evidence for the NDF Theory
A Matter of Time
The Enterprise-D's crew had to strictly regulate the power output of their phaser array in A Matter of Time to prevent an "exothermal inversion" of the atmosphere, which would have actually heated the planet's atmosphere to the point where the atmosphere would largely "boil off" the planet. The term "exothermal inversion" describes a "flip" in some material property which releases heat energy. The possibility of a sudden chain-reaction in the atmosphere demonstrates clearly that phasers do not perform direct heat energy transfer. If phasers heat matter directly, then there will be no possibility of a sudden "flip"- only a steady heating that can easily be controlled. Furthermore, it was clearly stated that the output had to be controlled to within "0.06 terawatts" to avoid this exothermal inversion. If phasers operate through direct heating, then an error of 0.06TW, 0.6TW, or even 600TW would not possibly make the difference between an unaffected atmosphere and an atmosphere being blasted off the planet.
DS9 TM #1
The DS9 TM expands upon the original TM's somewhat vague descriptions of the mechanism of phaser operation, and in so doing, it has completely debunked the erroneous claims of Federation cultists, who have been attempting to refute the NDF theory. It states that "the basic phaser mechanism remains the strong nuclear force liberation method found in the rapid nadion effect", and it also states that "almost no classical thermal or other unwanted EM effects are present in the discharge beam." The Federation's official technical literature is clearly in agreement that the basic mechanism of phaser operation is not thermal or electromagnetic in nature.
DS9 TM #2
The DS9 TM also indicates that the total power output of DS9's fusion reactors is a 790 TW, which is the total power output available to the entire station, including its shielding and weapons systems. If we examine the claimed effectiveness of phasers in "The Die is Cast", we can easily determine that 790 TW would not be anywhere near enough to power such weapons (you would need many orders of magnitude more power to be capable of destroying a planet's crust in one hour as the Romulans claimed they would be able to do), therefore the limited power output of DS9, and the demonstrated effectiveness of its weapons against entire fleets of enemy starships, in conjunction with "The Die is Cast", all combine to demonstrate that phasers must be capable of doing greater damage than what their raw power levels would suggest. This is another clear piece of evidence that phasers operate on some sort of chain reaction.
Momentum Effects: "The Die is Cast"
The momentum of light is U/c, and it is impossible for any particle of any kind to have less momentum than photons because photons have zero mass, and nothing can have less momentum than a zero-mass particle for any given energy level. Therefore, U/c is a solid lower limit for the momentum of any weapon, including phasers. We know that the TDiC fleet would have had to release at least 4E28 joules of energy to vaporize the Founder planet's crust, and that they estimated they would be able to do this in one hour. The resultant reaction momentum (remembering that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction) must therefore have been 1.3E20 kg·m/s. This works out to 3.7E16N of reaction force once we factor in the one-hour estimated time duration, or 1.85E15N applied to each ship.
How much force is this? This is enough force to accelerate a 4.5 million-ton ship like a GCS at 410,000 m/s²! For the laypeople out there, this is an acceleration of more than 40,000 G's! Needless to say, no such acceleration was seen in TDiC, and we know from the TM (pg. 75) that the accelerative capability of Federation impulse engines is only 10,000 m/s² so even if the impulse engines were applying full power, the ships would still have been accelerated backwards at 400,000 m/s². Some believe that Federation inertial dampers would keep this from happening, but there are two problems with this line of thinking:
Federation inertial dampers take roughly 0.295 seconds to engage (TM pg. 24), so each ship would have accelerated backwards at 40,000 g's for almost a third of a second- long enough for the crewmembers to have been crushed against the walls of the ship as it is literally thrown backwards into them.
Federation inertial dampers don't prevent accelerative forces from moving the ship (if they did, the ship's own impulse drive would not move the ship either). The TM specifically states that it only affects the human beings within the "habitable volume of the spacecraft", rather than affecting the entire ship.
Therefore, we can see that even if we completely ignore the fact that the direct energy-transfer theory is disproven by TDiC on Conservation of Energy grounds, we can easily disprove it on the grounds of the total lack of observed reaction momentum. Again, the direct energy-transfer theory fails to explain established capabilities where the NDF theory succeeds.
Hand Phaser Momentum and Battery Storage
According to the TM, hand phasers can "explosively uncouple" 650 cubic metres of rock with maximum power 0.28-second bursts. This would be consistent with the NDF theory but there is no such thing as "explosive uncoupling" of rock due to direct energy transfer. If we assume (as many do) that the term "explosive uncoupling" actually means vaporization, then hand phasers would need to transfer more than 9 TJ of energy into the rock, in just 0.28 seconds. The resulting power output estimate is 32 TW! The problem with this is threefold:
The battery storage capacity of a Type III phaser (also known as a phaser rifle, which is the most powerful hand-held weapon carried aboard Federation starships) is supposedly 67.5 TJ, so a phaser rifle would be capable of firing on full-power for only two seconds if its power output were this large.
It is most likely that both the phaser shot energy and cell capacity are actually much lower than this. A phaser on overload releases an amount of energy which is greater than one full-power shot, but if one full-power shot is 9 TJ, then a phaser overload should be a 2 kiloton nuclear-yield explosion! We've seen phaser overloads before, and they did not exhibit any of the fireball or shockwave effects of a low-yield nuclear weapon.
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The reaction force corresponding to a 32 TW energy discharge is more than 100,000 N! If a human being somehow held onto a weapon sustaining a reaction force of 100,000 N, not only would it instantly shatter every bone in his hand and dislocate his arm, but it would accelerate his entire body backwards at more than 125 g's! This would be fatal, as the human brain will be crushed against the inside of the human skull long before accelerations of that magnitude are reached.
Therefore, we can see that if hand phasers operated on direct energy-transfer principles, they would easily kill their users. The inevitable counter-argument is that the phasers incorporate technology for counteracting the reaction force, but the only way to do such a thing is to discharge massive energy or a highly energetic stream of particles out of the back of the phaser. This would simply kill the user in a different manner, and there is absolutely no mention of any such countermeasure in the TM. Again, the direct energy-transfer theory fails to explain known phenomena while the NDF theory succeeds.
Phaser Stun Settings
At low power levels, phasers can stun a human being into unconsciousness without causing significant physical damage (we have seen that they can cause localized burn effects and even death if fired at the cranium from close range, but at long range the damage is easily repairable). However, there is no known method for making a direct energy-transfer weapon that stuns a human being without causing enough physical damage to kill him as well. This is yet another example of the dismal failure of the direct energy-transfer theory to explain known phenomena, while the NDF theory is not so limited.
Direct energy transfer weapons (lasers, kinetic energy weapons, plasma weapons, chemical explosive weapons, etc) release their energy in an indiscriminate manner. Collateral damage is always part of the equation, yet phasers never do any collateral damage whatsoever, to the ground under the victim's feet or any bystanders. However, when they are set to a high power level, they completely disintegrate the victim's body! This is yet another example of the failure of the direct energy-transfer theory and the success of the NDF theory.
Heat and Pressure Waves
When a human body is vaporized by a phaser blast, there is no heat wave. No pressure wave. No blast of wind, or cloud of gas. In short, there are no waste products whatsoever, yet Conservation of Energy demands that there be waste products and heat. The only way to circumvent this problem is to postulate that the matter transformed into neutrinos or some other miniscule particle that can pass harmlessly and unnoticeably through matter. However, the only way to do this with normal energy transfer is to heat the matter up to a trillion degrees so that it "melts" into quarks, and such a massive energy release would not only cause some collateral damage, it would cause massive collateral damage, equivalent to a large-scale nuclear strike involving hundreds of warheads. Obviously, this isn't happening every time someone is vaporized on the show, and it certainly wouldn't mitigate the lack of a pressure or heat wave! Again, we see how the direct energy transfer theory fails while the NDF theory succeeds.
In "Devil in the Dark", hand phasers were shown to be ineffective at their default settings against a silicon-based life form. Although this is consistent with the NDF theory, it is totally inconsistent with the direct energy-transfer theory. Silicon-based materials do not necessarily have higher specific heat capacities than carbon-based materials; in many cases the heat capacities and melting points of carbon-based materials are actually higher. As if it needed to be said, we have yet another example of how the direct energy transfer theory fails to explain known phenomena while the NDF theory succeeds.
The TM clearly describes the destructive capabilities of hand phasers, but the destructive effect described in the TM is a non-linear exponentially increasing effect. In other words, when you double the energy (in "discharge units"), you get more than double the destruction. This doesn't fit with the direct energy transfer theory but it does fit with the NDF theory.
Duranium vs Rock
Duranium is most likely uranium (perhaps it stands for "depleted uranium", which has been truncated to "duranium" by the 23rd century), since we know that duranium ore is found on Bajor and transuranic elements are never found in significant quantities in planetary ores. This means that duranium most likely does not have a remarkably high melting point or a high specific heat, and yet it has a remarkable ability to resist destruction from phaser fire (based on TDiC, it is many trillions of times more resistant than rock). In fact, it doesn't really matter what duranium is- nothing can contain such large amounts of energy without melting, because the state of matter is essentially an indication of energy content.
To put it bluntly, if less than 10 cubic metres of duranium armor are destroyed by a ½-second phaser burst (and this appears to be a generous estimate based on the effects we've seen against unshielded ships) and 1E18 cubic metres of rock are vaporized by a 5-second burst (according to TDiC), then a single cubic metre of duranium must absorb at least 4E26 joules before vaporization. To make the sheer magnitude of this number obvious to lay-people, this is roughly 100 billion megatons, for one single cubic metre! There are two problems here:
In the world of real science, no element can possibly withstand this much energy. Not only would it easily vaporize, but its protons and neutrons would dissolve into quarks!
The TM indicates that 2.4TJ is required to vaporize a cubic metre of tritanium, so this would suggest that duranium is more than 150 trillion times as resistant as tritanium even though the two materials are both used in the ship's armor! This doesn't make any sense from either a Trek perspective or a scientific perspective (for that matter, the tritanium figures themselves are highly suspect, but that is another issue).
In fact, there is no conceivable way to reconcile the damage levels of phasers against duranium and rock, using the direct-energy-transfer theory. However, the NDF theory explains these effects easily. The light silicates in the planet's crust and mantle have low atomic numbers, while duranium obviously has a high atomic number. Yet another example of how the direct energy-transfer theory fails and the NDF theory succeeds.