Star Trek Guide

Star Trek Discovery: Everything We Know About The Burn So Far

Star Trek Discovery returned to CBS and Netflix for its third season on October 15th, 2020. Following right on after the events of season two's finale, which saw Michael Burnham and the crew of the Discovery travel through a wormhole, 900 years into the future, our characters learn about a cataclysmic disaster called "The Burn."

The Burn is the season's central mystery, an event where all ships within Federation space with active warp drives exploded due to the dilithium onboard suddenly becoming unstable. As season three has progressed, viewers have been given multiple clues about what could have caused this calamity, but even six episodes in, how much do we know about The Burn?

10 What Is The Burn?

The question "What is the Burn?" is answered by Book (David Ajala) in the premiere of Star Trek Discovery season three. After Burnham manages to get some information out of Book as to the events which occurred between 100 to 150 years before her arrival, he describes the event as such: "The Burn was the day the galaxy took a hard left. Dilithium, most of it just went boom…The Federation couldn’t say what happened or if it would happen again… they tried to hang on..but after a while, they just weren’t around anymore."

Burnham goes on to describe dilithium as “the heart of every warp-capable ship.” Effectively, this means that The Burn created a scarcity of dilithium and made many crews nervous about using it, except, of course, for the many pirates willing to kill for it.

9 Dilithium Became A Commodity

Commander Burnham discovers that about a century before The Burn happened, the galaxy's dilithium supply was already diminishing. Burnham, in a conversation with Captain Saru (Doug Jones), and the crew, tell them,  "700 years after we left, dilithium supplies dried up".This could mean that during the 2900s, the many planets the galaxy relied on for their supply of dilithium stopped producing the crucial element. It's unknown to the characters and viewers whether some unnatural event occurred on these planets which affected their dilithium production, or perhaps it was a thousand years of relentless mining of the ore which overwhelmed these planet's production.

8 The Federation Has Experimented With Alternative Warp Drives

In episode three of season three, Michael Burnham delivers a powerful monologue which states that 700 years after Discovery jumped through the wormhole, dilithium supplies dried up. This leads the Federation to experiment with alternative warp designs, but every new design was a bust.

Shortly after this, The Burn occurred, and the remaining, dwindling supply of dilithium went inert in an apparent instant leading every ship with a warp drive detonating.

7 Trill Population Decimated By The Burn

In episode four, when the Discovery crew visits the Trill homeworld, at first, they're welcomed at the prospect that one of their own is returning home. However, when the Trill realized that said Trill had a human host, Adira, they turn sour after losing so many of their kind to the Burn.

6 The Burn Causes Earth To Leave The Federation

Follow the disaster that was the Burn, the Federation was unable to figure out what caused it or whether it would happen again.

This leads the people of Earth, in the sense of urgency to protect their planet, to pull out from the Federation's ranks. The Federation and Starfleet, as a result of Earth seceding, relocated their headquarters in 3089, moving to a large space station.

5 Confirmed Federation Ships Destroyed In The Burn

As confirmed on the Fandom wiki page for The Burn, several Federation ships have been confirmed KIA as a result of The Burn, including NCC-316608, USS Yelchin (NCC-4774xx), at least 4 Eisenberg-class ships, 3 Intrepid-class ships, and at least seven Constitution ships.

4 Was The Burn Manmade?

The logistics of how The Burn occurred seemed highly improbable at first. As Michael described it, "devastation flashed in an instant across all known space." But as Lt. Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) pointed out, "That's impossible. Nothing could affect all dilithium all at once."

For this to be true, it would mean something, or someone managed to render every speck of dilithium inert simultaneously. Over a hundred years later, no-one knows exactly what caused the burn or how it happened. The possibility of The Burn being a natural one in a million scenario was thrown out the window on Instagram from the @startreklogs feed, which features the private logs of Star Trek: Discovery's characters after each season 3 episode. It's Emperor Philippa Georgiou's (Michelle Yeoh) log after episode two which could confirm that The Burn was man-made: "Whoever was responsible may be cunning enough to keep me from being bored here... I can only hope they are still alive... a worthy adversary if there ever was one..."

We know Emperor Georgiou has some of the most cunning instincts in the show, not to mention she was an agent of Section 31.

3 The Burn Did Not Happen Simultaneously Across The Galaxy

During the year between Burnham's arrival and the USS Discovery's arrival, Michael uncovers an important clue to how The Burn occurred. She believes that The Burn did not happen across the galaxy at once but instead had a point of origin. To prove her theory, Burnham sets out to recover a black box from a starship destroyed in The Burn, after having learned that the Federation already possesses the records from two other black boxes. With the data from the three boxes, Burnham is convinced she would be able to triangulate The Burn source.

2 Could Lorca Be Responsible For The Burn?

Yes, we mean Captain Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs) from season one. Yes, the same one who was stabbed in the back with a Terran sword by Georgiou before being thrown into the super-mycelial reactor core of the ISS Charon. During a crucial moment in season three, episode six, Georgiou has one of her flashbacks, which have been plaguing her throughout the season. In a "blink and you'll miss it" split-second frame of her vision, you can clearly see the scene where Lorca plummeted to his supposed death in season one. Why is this even a possibility? Yes, this is still a theory but a valid one, considering how the mycelial network doesn't convey to the usual boundaries of death (Culber, we're looking at you), it's quite possible that Lorca could have something to do with the Burn?

1 Did The Vulcans and The Romulans Cause The Burn, By Accident?

In the latest episode, Unification III, Ensign Tilly, and Michael Burnham continue their investigation of The Burn by analyzing the black boxes which they recovered from the three ships destroyed in The Burn. They're able to confirm Michael's suspicions that the ships did not combust simultaneously, which alludes to it coming from an origin point. They learn about a classified project named SB-19 which saw sensors being spread across subspace and could be key to tracking the launch of "The Burn".

Saru and Michael approach Admiral Vance with this new information, who seems stunned by their discovery. He reveals that SB-19 was an experiment, research project from the planet Ni'Var, the planet formally known as Vulcan. Vance brings Saru and Michael up to speed on how Vulcan became Ni'Var, a result of Spock's efforts to re-unify the Romulans and Vulcans. The once warring tribes of the planet came together and were recruited to create alternate sources of energy due to the dwindling supply of dilithium. The people of Ni'Var invented a new form of transport capable of transporting ships in an instant but warned that it was unstable. The Federation, however, persisted with SB-19 despite the warning from Ni'Var, The Burn happened which lead the Vulcans and Romulans to believe that their experimental mode of transport caused The Burn.

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