Zero Point Module (ZPM)

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Zero Point Modules (ZPMs)

Summary

A Zero Point Module (abbreviated ZPM) is an immensely strong and very long-lived energy source capable of powering entire cities and intergalactic spacecraft. The ZPM was invented by the Ancients, and units have been found both on Earth and in the Pegasus galaxy. In Pegasus, finding non-depleted ZPM's is so important that there is a standing order for the members of the Atlantis expedition to retrieve them whenever possible. Having a ZPM in Atlantis means the difference between survival and defeat, and between isolation and the ability to travel home to Earth.

ZPMs were first introduced in 7.22 "Lost City Part 2", but were not referred as such until Stargate: Atlantis 1.01 "Rising Part One".

Updated to 10.10 "The Quest Part 1" and SGA 3.12 "Echoes".

Quantum Mechanics Primer

Zero Point Modules are so named because they use zero point energy. Zero point energy is present in all quantum mechanical systems (i.e. everything that uses energy and converts it to entropy). Zero point energy is the lowest amount of energy that such a quantum mechanical system can have. It is also commonly referred to as vacuum energy and remains when all matter is removed from a region of space. Since by definition zero point energy can never be depleted (a region of space can never have less than that amount), it is theoretically an unlimited and free energy source.

The energy is said to arise from various particles that spontaneously emerge, exist for fractions of a second, and are then annihilated by anti-particles. At very small distances (~10-35 meters) this particle/anti-particle turbulence is known as quantum foam, and it is theorized to be a remnant of the birth of the universe carried over to this day. (Also partially explained in the hypothesis is that not all matter in the universe is evenly distributed). This variation in energy is somewhat analogous to observing common objects under very small scales. For example, ordinary glass under extreme magnification is porous. Marbles, if expanded to the size of the earth, would have more variation in radius than the Earth does (including the Himalayas and Death Valley).

Despite the two particles annihilating each other, a small amount of energy is detectable (demonstrated by the Casimir effect). Because of the immensely small scales of time and size, as well as the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, the existence and subsequent annihilation of these particles does not violate the conservation of energy. The individual particles are thought to be generated perhaps by photons interacting with the space.

As built by the Ancients, a ZPM is a container of a large region of vacuum subspace instead of normal space, so that its size is manageable. The ZPM draws power from the zero point energy, a tiny amount from each small bit of the enclosed subspace that adds up to unimaginable power in total. Theoretically the ZPM should never become depleted, but since all mechanical devices have imperfections, it is likely there is a miniscule amount of loss in the system that eventually leads to the last of the energy leaving the ZPM. There is also the issue of entropy eventually winding the system down, but our understanding of physics does not extend to such large-scale thermodynamics.

Technical Summary

ZPMs are power generation devices created by the Ancients. No other known race is known to have harnessed Zero Point Energy without using ZPMs or ZPM-based technologies (as in the case of the Project Arcturus, or the later project developed by Dr. McKay and his sister). The devices are also one of the few known technologies that can power Ancient technology. (Mark I naquadah generators are capable of powering Atlantis enough for day to day operations, and Mark II generators are capable of powering the Ancient Control Chairs for a limited time, with a pair of Mark IIs achieving a somewhat greater success, but the full functionality of an Ancient City Ship requires ZPMs) The majority of the defensive measures of Atlantis, not to mention the massive shield, were inoperable under naquadah generator power (7.22 "The Lost City, Part 2", SGA 1.01 "The Rising Part 1", SGA 2.06 "The Tower, SGA 3.08 "McKay and Mrs. Miller").

A ZPM is shaped like a rough cylinder, perhaps twelve to eighteen inches in length, and six to eight inches diameter. They are made of a yellow/orange crystalline material, with black etchings of some unknown material. The crystalline nature of a ZPM is similar to other forms of Ancient technology, but is a likely nod to the third law of thermodynamics (entropy of a system approaches a minimum value or zero in case of a perfect crystalline substance). To use an analogy, it may be similar to making electrical wiring out of silver or gold, as the materials are better conductors of electricity, than the cheaper and more commonly used copper. Small sections of the crystalline material are tinted red and green, but do not appear to be separate pieces of the ZPM, as by visual inspection it appears to be a single solid crystal.

The crystalline nature of the ZPM is perhaps indicative of other Ancient technology, or perhaps to the third law of thermodynamics, which states that the entropy of a system approaches a minimum value or zero in the case of a perfect crystalline substance. There is also what appear to be small shapes within the ZPM, but the precise shape or purpose of them is unknown. To get a sense of scale of the power generation provided by ZPMs, the following is known: one square centimeter of the space that is artificially contained within a ZPM (if the assumption made that the artificial space is identical to "normal" space), contains enough energy to boil all the world's oceans ( 7.22 "Lost City Part Two", 8.19 "Moebius Part One", 8.20 "Moebius Part Two", Stargate: Atlantis 1.01 "Rising Part One").

ZPMs are installed onboard consoles of Ancient design that are built to contain them. In times when the Ancients had possession of Atlantis, the ZPMs were housed in a triangular shaped console, with three circular niches for the ZPMs to rest. However, the Atlantis Expedition has not been able to draw power from their ZPM unless the ZPM is fully within the niche. The reason for this is unknown, although it could be theorized that the console, normally operating in simultaneous draw of energy, and modified by Janus to only drain one at a time, has not been reset to normal operations. There could also be a worn part, considering Atlantis had sat at the bottom of the Lantean ocean for 10,000 years (SGA 1.01 "The Rising Part 1", SGA .1.15 "Before I Sleep").

To date, ZPMs have been found in the Pegasus Galaxy with a much higher frequency than compared to the Milky Way Galaxy. Pegasus Galaxy ZPMs have been found in a variety of settings, including powering an Ancient City Ship encrusted with vegetation, powering an energy field designed to disable advanced forms of technology for a sanctuary against the Wraith, and in another Wraith sanctuary powering a time dilation field (SGA 2.15 "The Tower", SGA 1.06 "Childhood's End", and SGA 2.12 "Ephiphany", respectively)

ZPMs are not the epitome of power generation by the Ancients. Project Arcturus was the Ancient equivalent to the Manhattan Project, and was an attempt to draw zero point energy directly from this universe, which in the words of Dr. Radek Zelenka, would have made it "potentially as powerful as the scope of the universe itself." However, the idea was not as simple as it sounds. Apparently, when drawing zero point energy from a universe, exotic particles are created. Particles are eventually created which cannot be contained by any method, which breach containment as hard radiation. The fact that ZPMs are closed systems prevents the exotic particles from harming this universe, albeit at the impossibility of a ZPM to be recharged. Apparently, the Ancients working on the project were killed during the experimentation. One Atlantis scientist died within seconds of radiation exposure, giving severe burns to 70% of his skin. Later, after McKay's further experimentation, five-sixths of the solar system where Project Arcturus was housed was destroyed (SGA 2.06 "Trinity").

Stargate References

A ZPM was first discovered on the planet Praclarush Taonas, at the site of an Ancient outpost. O'Neill, under the influence of an Ancient Knowledge download, was able to determine that the Ancients used syllables to represent the various Stargate addresses. Upon arrival, they discovered the coordinates to find Atlantis: the Antarctic continent of Earth. However, the coordinates were 30 million years out of date, Atlantis was gone, leaving only a small outpost. Returning home, SG-1 discovered the outpost under the ice, housing devices of Ancient design. O'Neill connected the ZPM to a control throne and fired drone weapons at the Anubis fleet, utterly defeating the armada (7.22 "Lost City Part 2").

The Praclarush Taonas ZPM was removed from the Antarctic Defense Platform and used to dial Atlantis in the Pegasus Galaxy, which was successful in powering a wormhole for the entire duration of the transit, but completely drained the ZPM. Two completely drained ZPMs and one nearly drained ZPM were discovered in Atlantis, and within minutes of the team's arrival, the newly activated systems completely drained the ZPM and lifted the city off the ocean floor. (SGA 1.01 "The Rising Part 1").

The Goa'uld Camulus provided the SGC with the location of another, partially powered ZPM (Initial testing indicated at least 50% of the charge was still available). However, Dr. Lee discovered that the ZPM had been tampered with; Camulus had sabotaged the power source using a chemical that created an explosion when a constant electric charge was applied. Dr. Lee also sadly reported that they had no way of completely removing the chemical from the ZPM. They sent Camulus to Ba'al with a depleted and unusable ZPM, the Goa'uld believing he still had his sabotaged device (8.04 "Zero Hour").

A ZPM was discovered in the Pegasus Galaxy powering an energy field that disabled advanced technologies (based upon the events, it seems designed against Wraith technology, which probably means the field was designed as a sanctuary against the Wraith). Dr. McKay removed the ZPM and tested it, only to discover it was nearly empty, and would only power the shield at full strength for perhaps a few hours at best. As it was, it was much more useful to the people of the planet, and the ZPM was left in their possession. (SGA 1.06 "Childhood's End").

During exploration of the city, a Weir from an alternate timeline was discovered in a stasis chamber in Atlantis. Although aged, she remembered the events of her timeline, in which Atlantis did not rise to the surface after being drained of power, but simply lost shields, drowning the city and the Atlantis Expedition soon after it arrived. In her hand, she held a piece of paper with five addresses, the locations of five ZPMs in the Pegasus Galaxy (SGA 1.15 "Before I Sleep")

One of the addresses led to a planet where a ZPM was considered a hidden treasure, known as the Potentia, and was guarded by a organization known as the Brotherhood, intended to ensure the treasure remain hidden but clues were left, in case Brotherhood members were killed in Wraith cullings. The Atlantis Expedition recovered the ZPM, only to be rebuffed, as the Brotherhood believed the ZPM was to await the Ancients return; the Brotherhood took custody of the ZPM and hid it again. (SGA 1.16 "Brotherhood" )

Back in the Milky Way Galaxy, another, fully powered, ZPM was recovered from Ancient Egypt, where it was regarded as a religious artifact and in the possession of Ra, though the Goa'uld apparently did not know its function. A time travelling SG-1 stole the ZPM from Ra and buried it for a future expedition to find. This ZPM was used to connect to the Atlantis expedition before an impending attack by the Wraith and send reinforcements. The ZPM was later used to "supercharge" the Daedalus hyperdrive, dropping a twenty day trip to four days (8.19 "Moebius Part 1", SGA 1.20 "The Siege Part 2").

With Atlantis narrowly destroying a second Hive Ship, the Daedalus arrives with the ZPM just in time. The ZPM powered Atlantis's shields, which allowed the shield to power the city and avoid being severely damaged by several Wraith Darts on kamikaze ballistic trajectories (moving at approximately 10,000 km per hour according to Dr. Zelenka). The shield powered again as ten Wraith Hive ships and their escorts bomb Atlantis from orbit. The shield took up immense amounts of power and would be drained within days. The Atlantis Expedition faked a self destruction by detonating a nuclear warhead against the shield, and switching over to cloaking the city afterwards. The Wraith bought the ruse and left the system. (SGA 2.01 "Siege Part 3").

On a destroyed planet, with the remains of several Wraith vessels in orbit, the Atlantis Expedition discovered the Ancient facility housing Project Arcturus, an attempt to make ZPMs obsolete. The project was restarted by the Atantis expedition, only to be hit with failure as the mechanisms for generating power could not be overcome, which eventually resulted in the overload of the systems, and destruction of five-sixths of the solar system. (SGA 2.06 "Trinity")

Sheppard became trapped inside a time dilation field, in a place designed to be a sanctuary against the Wraith and a place to meditate upon ascension. Dr. McKay theorized that a ZPM powered the facility. Although the Ancient residents of the sanctuary did not deny the assertion, before their own ascension, they insisted the ZPM remain to allow others use of the sanctuary (SGA 2.12 "Epiphany")

A Trust member infiltrated the Atlantis Expedition, and set a bomb to explode within the city. It was later determined that the ZPM itself was the bomb with the failsafes turned off by the infiltrator, and the city's operating system locked out further changes. The infiltrator was later determined to be Col. Caldwell, infested with a Goa'uld. He was subdued, and the ZPM failsafes reenabled, saving the city. (SGA 2.13 "Critical Mass")

Another Ancient City Ship was discovered on another planet. This time it was on land with only the central tower remaining. There, a society was kept in fear by the Lord Protector's ability to create swarms of glowing lights (AKA drone weapons) and powered by a nearly depleted ZPM (SGA 2.15 "The Tower").

In exchange for military supplies, a Genii soldier gave the Atlantis Expedition a ZPM. However, the ZPM was entirely drained and had been so for several thousand years. (SGA 2.17 "Coup D'Etat").

The Asurans, by virtue of inheriting Ancient technology, had the ability to construct ZPMs, and have described themselves as having "many," albeit not willing to share any of them. The exact number they possess is unknown. The Asuran City Ship, carried three ZPMs; all three were used to self-destruct the city in orbit around Atlantis before the Asuran Replicators attacked. (SGA 3.05 "Progeny").

Dr. McKay began a second iteration of Project Arcturus, using equations derived by his sister in a moment of inspiration. Using the Atlantis ZPM, the siblings created a bridge between two universes (as part of the alternate universe/multiverse ) and drew zero point energy from the alternate universe, keeping the exotic particles in that universe. Despite the fact that the chances of the alternate universe being inhabited were astronomically slim, the alternate universe they tapped was actually inhabited by a similar Atlantis expedition, albeit with distinct differences. In an effort to prevent the exotic particles from destroying the alternate universe, the Atlantis ZPM was used to destroy the interdimensional bridge, but complete drained the ZPM. (SGA 3.08 "McKay and Mrs. Miller").

At the completion of the intergalactic bridge (a series of thirty-four Milky Way and Pegasus galaxy stargates set in the void between the galaxies), an Aurora-class Ancient warship called the Tria was discovered traveling at .999 of light speed. While the ship's engines are normally nowhere near capable enough of powering that amount of thrust, Dr. McKay theorized that a ZPM must be tied into their systems. The Lantian Ancients of the Tria installed the ZPMs to Atlantis, but dismissed the Atlantis Expedition back to Earth (SGA 3.10 "Return Part 1").

Soon after the Atlantis expedition left, the Lantians were killed by a new invading Asuran force, but the city, with its three charged ZPMs, was retaken by Sheppard's team. Atlantis retained one ZPM, but the other two were sent to Stargate Command: one to power the Antarctic outpost and the other to boost systems on the Odyssey (SGA 3.11 "The Return Part 2" SGA 3.12 "Echoes").

Episodes

Gallery

Depiction of ZPM being worshipped in Ancient Egypt
Time traveling SG-1 with ZPM
SG-1 with ZPM in crate
McKay and ZPM
Replacing ZPM in shield
Genii using ZPM as bait

Related Characters

Related Articles

Further Reading

(It should also be stated, that, while zero point energy is a accepted scientific fact, actually harnessing the energy into a useful purpose is not. Many mainstream scientists consider harnessing the energy to be a modern day perpetual motion device, and about as likely to work as one.)


Article written for Stargate Solutions by Jordan Kreiger and edited with updates by Aurora Novarum and Michelle.
--Aurora 14:05, 31 March 2006