Star Trek: Discovery Season 3: What Is the Burn?

Star Trek: Discovery is back today on CBS All Access today for its third season. The show sees a significant shift in setting this season following Michael Burnham, the Discovery, and its crew's jump 930 years into the Star Trek universe's future. Earlier trailers hinted that an event called "the Burn" altered the state of the United Federation of Planets, Starfleet, and the galaxy. Star Trek: Discovery wastes no time in explaining what the Burn is, revealing the event in its third season premiere episode, "That Hope Is You, Part 1." It's as game-changing as the trailer implied. SPOILERS for the episode follow.

Michael Burnham emerges from the wormhole that takes her into the 32nd century and immediately crashes into the starship piloted by courier Cleveland "Book" Booker. Book needs dilithium for his ship. He and Michael strike a deal to work together. As they travel, Book notices that Michael is carrying antique technology. That she's wearing a Starfleet insignia badge makes him wonder if she's one of those "true believers" who still believe in the Federation. When Michael asks for an explanation, Book explains that the Federation all but disappeared after the Burn.

Michael doesn't know what Book means. Book explains that the Burn happened 100-120 years before Michael arrived in the future (that'd be sometime between 3068 and 3088). All at once, most of the dilithium in the galaxy "went boom." As Michael mentions, dilithium is an essential component in the drives of any warp-cable starship.

Dilithium was a crystalline substance found on only a few planets, where it mined for use in warp drives. The crystals regulate the drive's matter/antimatter reactions. If dilithium suddenly failed, any active warp drive would become unstable, resulting in the "boom" to which Book is referring.

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As the episode continues, it becomes clear that some dilithium remains, but it is now rarer than ever. Couriers get paid in the substance, which allows them to continue on their routes. But without a surplus of dilithium, most space travel would have to be at sub-light speeds. It'd be almost impossible for the United Federation of Planets to maintain meaningful contact with its many widespread member planets, nevermind exploring the untold reaches of the galaxy. It's no surprise then that the 32nd-century Federation is a shadow of its former self.

What do you think of the Burn? Let us know in the comments. New Star Trek: Discovery episodes debut Thursdays on CBS All Access.