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Exploration in EVE involves using scanning probes to locate Cosmic Signatures in space which may contain hackable containers with items inside, resources like gas clouds or ore, wormholes to distant star systems, or collections of NPCs which may drop rare items. As a profession, exploration can be profitable and engaging, and offers better rewards for players willing to travel in more dangerous space. It has a low skill barrier, and new players can start exploring almost from day 1.
Players will learn what skills are required to start exploring, what ships and equipment are best for the new explorer, what sorts of areas can be located using the exploration mechanics, how to use probes to track down hidden exploration sites, and how to use analyzer modules to hack into loot containers in exploration sites.
- Main article: Scanning
The main object of an explorer is to track down hidden areas found in systems across all of the EVE universe. These areas contain valuable items or other points of interest, but cannot be warped to initially. Instead, a player must use their ship's scanner and their Probe Launcher to track down the “signals” of these hidden areas through a process generally referred to as “probing,” or “scanning,” or “exploring.” If you’ve ever heard someone mention that they are going to “probe down a site”… this is it!
You’ve found a quiet system to explore and are safely nestled in a comfortable spot. Cocoa and blankets are optional. Time to explore! Pop open your ship’s scanner using the little button on your ship’s HUD that has a picture of a radar screen on it (or press ALT-P). While you were parking your ship somewhere, your scanner was busy! It’s more than likely tracked down a few points of interest throughout the system. Note that if your scanner readout says “No Signals Detected,” that means the system is currently empty. Head to a different system to explore, but note that you can always come back to this system again later to see if anything juicy has appeared.
When you first enter a system, none of its Cosmic Signatures will have any identifying information besides a generic designation, such as “MRM-213”. However, much like Cosmic Anomalies, Cosmic Signatures come in several types. You just won’t know exactly what you are tracking down until you pull out your probes!
A Good Place to Start
When you first begin exploring, you will likely want to stick to high-security space: systems with a security status anywhere from 0.5 to 1.0. You will be pretty safe in these systems, but there are some best practices you can start to follow so that they are routine as you move into exploring more dangerous space.
- Explore in quiet systems
- Pop open your Star Map and set it to look for “Number of players in the last half hour.” This will set your map to display large or small circles that indicate how much traffic a particular system has seen recently. In high-sec space, your biggest annoyance as an explorer will be other high-sec explorers: there are only so many exploration sites out there, and you will be racing other explorers for them. Areas with lots of traffic typically won’t have any exploration sites of interest to you, and the ones that do appear will likely be pounced on by someone else. Don’t get into a tug-of-war with other high-sec explorers: find a quiet stretch of systems somewhere and do your exploration there!
- Explore from a safe place
- While probing for exploration sites, your ship will be motionless for extended periods of time. This is dangerous in many parts of EVE. In high-sec, you will probably be perfectly safe idling some distance from a dockable station, or, say, 100km out from a planet. You will be even safer if you have a cloak fitted and activate it when you get to your spot. Indeed, you can explore cloaked so long as you remember to launch your probes first before engaging the cloaking device. In low-sec and other dangerous parts of space, you will want to explore from what's called a Safe Spot, and you will pretty much always want to be cloaked. You can find more info on locating and using Safe Spots in the Bookmarks lesson, and high-sec is a great place to get in the habit of using Safe Spots to explore unhindered!
- After finding a safe spot for your ship, an extra precaution you can take is to point your ship in a semi-random direction away from the system’s major points of interest and (if you're not cloaked) then activate your Afterburner or Microwarpdrive. You can safely do this while focusing the majority of your attention on your probing. This is very helpful if you are flying without a cloak: the forward momentum makes it harder for hostile players to track you down, and even if they manage to, you will have a head start on them and should be able to escape!
Probing Down an Exploration Site
The goal of probing is to increase a Signature’s Signal Strength to 100%. Your system has a few Cosmic Signatures listed, and you’re well versed in what could possibly be out there. Let’s probe one down in this video, or as follows below.
- You already have the scanning panel open, but let’s hit F10 to open up the Solar System Map. This is a “wireframe” representation of the system you are currently in, complete with all the major celestials, like planets, moons and the sun. Since you have your scanning window open, there should be some green and/or red dots and spheres on your map. These represent the Anomalies and Signatures currently tracked by your scanner, as well as their general location. Green dots indicate areas that you can warp to, either an Anomaly or a Signature you have scanned down. Red dots or spheres represent the general area in which your ship’s scanner is detecting the signal of a Cosmic Signature. We’re going to have to narrow that down in order to warp there.
- The bottom left of your scanner window has an icon that looks a bit like an atom. That’s the shortcut for the “Pinpoint” probe formation. Press it, and your ship will launch its payload of probes and automatically arrange them in a Pinpoint formation. Neat!
- You should now notice that some blue spheres have appeared on your Solar System map. That’s the general area that your probes can currently scan. The center probe in this formation is represented by a white box with arrows sticking out of it. You can click and drag those arrows to move the probes around: by default, dragging that center probe will move all the probes together in formation. This is useful. Now, in order to start tracking down a Signature, you will need to drag your probes so they are centered over one of the red Signature dots or spheres and then press the Analyze button on the middle left of your scanning window. This will scan that area more thoroughly with your probes, and will take a few seconds to complete. If the signature’s red sphere is larger than the area your probes’ blue spheres cover, hold alt and expand the sphere size. This will increase the range of your probes so you can scan the whole red sphere. If all this is done correctly, the scan will complete and increase the Signal Strength of your chosen Signature. This is listed on the far right of your scanning window.
- The goal of probing is to increase a Signature’s Signal Strength to 100%. As you continue to increase the Signal Strength, you will begin to learn more and more about the Signature: first, what type of Site it is, followed by the specific name of the site, and then finally, the Signature’s actual location so you can warp to it! Obviously, this is why we’ve picked a ship and equipment that raises the scan strength of our probes: it makes it much easier to get this number to 100%.
- Now, it’s unlikely this first scan got the signal to 100%. In order to further increase its Signal Strength, we’re going to have to give our probes more power by reducing the range of their scan. We do this by clicking and holding the outside edge of one of the probe’s blue spheres and then dragging it inward. This will decrease the size of your scan. Now, re-center your probes on your signature’s dot or sphere and hit the Activate button again. If done correctly, your smaller scan area should still catch the Signature and will end up increasing its Signal Strength.
- Most Signatures can be probed down by repeating this process: reduce your scan range by a step, re-center your probes on the Signature, and scan! It’s just that easy.
- Once you’ve raised the Signal Strength to 100%, the Signature’s Signal Strength will turn into an arrow you can click to warp to the newly located Site. Congratulations! You’re exploring!
Probing Tips and Troubleshooting
- You may occasionally come across a Signature that refuses to hit 100%, despite the fact that you have your probes centered on it at their minimum range (0.25 AU). If this happens, there are a couple things you can try before giving up and resolving to raise your probing-related skills.
- Holding the SHIFT key down will allow you to maneuver individual probes, rather than your entire formation. If you are using the Pinpoint formation as recommended, you’ll notice that five of the probes are along the same plane, with four hovering around the outside of the center probe. Shift these four probes around the center probe so that they form a cross, with one probe at each cardinal direction. Activate your scanner again: this in and of itself may be enough to make the Signature warpable. If not, move the four probes closer to the center probe. You’ll want to get them pretty close, without having them overlap. Zooming your view in using the mouse wheel will help here. Alternate shifting the cardinal point probes closer and activating your scanner to see if this raises the Signal Strength enough.
- If the above isn’t quite enough to get the Signature to 100%, you can try shifting the entire formation of probes in a single direction a very small amount and then re-scanning. Since the dot that represents the Signature’s location isn’t 100% accurate until its Signal Strength is 100%, you can sometimes squeeze out an extra percentage point or two of Strength in this manner. This can be a bit tedious, however, as the margin for error is so small. It’s recommended that you only try this if you are painfully close to 100% Signal Strength!
- Note that as a new explorer, sometimes you’ll just plain be unable to scan a Signature all the way down to 100%. This is very unlikely to happen in high-sec space, but if it does, don’t let it get you down. Just remember, one day your skills and equipment will be good enough that no Signature will be able escape your grasp!
- After you’ve probed something down, you may notice that your scanner used to have a bunch of Signatures on it, but now does not. This is because launching probes and reducing their range has removed those Signatures from your scanning region. This is easy enough to remedy, however. You can either expand your probes’ range to their maximum and re-scan, or temporarily switch the Spread formation and re-scan a larger area. In both cases, make sure your probes are covering as large a space as possible: the entire system, if you can. That should find those missing Signatures easily!
- While scanning, once you have a signature down to a single dot, double-click the signature in the scanner window. This will center your star system map on the signature, and, more importantly, make the camera rotate around it (instead of around the sun), which makes moving and aligning your probes much easier.
Collaboration with other capsuleers can increase one's productivity. Through the use of bookmarks corp members can share signatures, and via various third-party tools players can share additional information.
Mapping tools generally focus on wormhole chains to be used by travelers. EVE University uses the WHC Mapper tool that is available to all E-Uni campuses. Additional third-party tools are available for mapping wormhole chains. The organization EVE-Scout and corp Signal Cartel maintains a publicly-available map of Thera connections on their website and 3rd-party tool Tripwire.
Exploration sites are divided to cosmic signatures and cosmic anomalies basead on how they are located. Cosmic Anomalies are areas of interest that radiate a strong enough signal that you can jump to them immediately after your ship scanner finds them. You don’t need to do any fancy probing or anything: just click and go! Of course, since everyone can easily see these sites, they’re typically less rewarding, and possibly more crowded than Cosmic Signatures. Cosmic Signatures are the bread and butter of an explorer. These are hidden areas that cannot be warped to unless tracked down by probes. Because of this extra step, Cosmic Signature exploration areas can be very lucrative, even in high-sec space!
- Main article: Combat sites
Combat sites can be found in many flavors. They all share the common element of killing rats for rewards. Combat sites are generally split into two categories, anomalies and signatures, depending on how they are found.
The most commonly found combat sites are combat cosmic anomalies. They are visible in scanner window as soon as you jump into a system and require no specialized scanning equipment. They are always ungated pockets in space with multiple waves of rats.
A specific type of cosmic anomalies is besieged covert research facility. These sites are found in low security space only and are harder than the normal anomalies. The rats in these will attempt to shoot into your lowest resist so omni tank is needed.
Combat cosmic signatures are harder to find. They need to be scanned with probes and are generally rarer than anomalies. They are made up of several “rooms” of deadspace connected by Acceleration Gates, and they frequently have containers filled with great loot. Of course, they are also guarded by large numbers of NPC ships. These combat sites are further divided into unrated and DED rated complexes. The differences between the two are mostly cosmetic.
Relic and Data sites
- Main article: Relic and data sites
Pirate relic and data sites do not contain any dangers. You just need to scan the site down, hack the containers with and grab the goods. This is usually done in defenseless frigate in lawless space so watch out for other players. Drone data sites are similar but failing the hack spawns hostile drones. The drones are weak and even T1 scanning frigate can handle them. Pirate relic and data sites are found in normal space and class 1-3 wormholes. In drone regions only drone data sites are found.
Ghost Site are more dangerous data sites found in normala space. In them you have limited time to hack and failed hacks will blow up the container and damage your ship. These sites can be identified from "Covert Research Facility" in their name.
Sleeper caches are the most complicated data sites. They contain traps and environmental hazards, single mistake can get poorly fit ship killed. The come in three flavors: Limited Sleeper Cache, Standard Sleeper Cache and Superior Sleeper Cache. The limited sleeper cache is for frigates while the other two require more powerful ships.
In certain regions there are also gas site combat sites. These sites contain two waves of rats and containers that need to be hacked to get access to the rewards. They contain drug related commodities, blueprints, implants and skillbooks.
Ore sites are cosmic anomalies and do not require probes to be located. These sites are temporary pockets filled with either ice asteroids, which can be mined for fuel components, or regular asteroids of a rarer type not normally found in that system. You can tell what kind of asteroids are within the site by the site’s name: they’re pretty obvious.
- Main article: Wormholes
Wormholes are temporary gates that can take your ship from your current system to almost anywhere else in space. They are cosmic signatures and need to be scanned with probes. Some wormholes go to highsec, lowsec, or nullsec space, and are sometimes valuable shortcuts around the universe. Some go to dangerous “uncharted” areas referred to as “wormhole space” or “w-space.” W-space areas contain the most lucrative exploration sites in the game, but most of them are guarded by powerful Sleeper NPCs, even the Relic and Data Sites that are so tame in high-sec. (As of the Phoebe release in late 2014, nullsec Relic and Data sites with Sansha, Blood Raider, Guristas, Angel and Serpentis in their names are unguarded sites in WH space. So after learning more about WH's, if you have enough data/relic skills, you could consider running these.) For these reasons, at the start of your career, you should leave wormholes alone... but don’t forget about them! Later articles will go into how you can begin dipping your exploration toe into the vast, untamed pond of wormhole space. See the Wormholes information.
Sites in wormhole space
Wormhole space has its own sets of sleeper sites unique to each wormhole class. The sleepers defend these sites, for more information see Wormholes.
Lower class 1-3 wormholes also contain pirate data and relic sites. These are identical to sites found in normal null security space.
As with most things in Eve, the more dangerous the environment the higher the rewards. Exploration in HighSec tends to have low return on time, but the minigames are far easier and the risk of attack is far lower. As you start moving into more and more negative space the rewards begin to go up significantly. However, by the time you start running sites in null sec you will most likely want to have T2 modules and appropriate rigs for your exploration vessel. This will typically mean that you will be running sites in a ship that has little to no defensive or offensive capability beyond being fast and hopefully cloaky. You may also not have an opportunity to sell your loot frequently, this can lead to a cargo hold full of 100's of million of ISK in a hull that is paper thin.
Outside of high-sec, it is common for other players to scan you down, not just with the traditional combat probes, but with core scanner probes as well - since you will be in a scannable location. While running the site, and particularly while in the minigame, keep your overview and Local visible, and keep running D-Scan. If you see any probes zero in on you, move quickly away from the structure you are looting and cloak up or warp out. A well used Stealth Bomber, Recon ship, or T3 Cruiser, can make extremely quick work of you, and turn a nice profit in the process. Also keep in mind that somebody else may be there already and cloaked. Especially as you start interacting with the first structure - watch your Local and be ready to run fast. A cloaked stealth bomber could just be chilling waiting for you to start the minigame and lose situational awareness.
When on approach to a site you can make a nearby escape bookmark on your way in. This acts as a quick bugout location that lets you still keep a D-Scan eye on the site you are running to see who comes in.
Remember, even though you have invested in scanning down the site, and may be close to finding the system core, it probably isn't worth risking your ship and your cargo to finish a particular structure or site.
Also note - when running some sites in wormholes there will be Sleepers, and all of the above still holds except local won't help and the locals may have already scanned the site so may not need to drop probes on you (of course this can also hold true anywhere - but what's life without a little risk!)
A ship for running combat sites is very different from a ship that is for running data and relic sites. Combat sites are much easier to scan than data and relic sites and the scanning is usually done in same combat ship that is used for running the sites and not in exploration frigate.
- Weapons are of course needed to harm the rats.
- An armor or shield tank.
- Tanking goes beyond the scope of this article, but thankfully the University has good lessons in place already for both Tanking. Equipping your ship with a few appropriate tanking modules will increase its survival rate if you decide to tangle with easier NPC targets. Note that you should never try to build both a shield tank AND armour tank on the same ship, and that shield tanking generally requires mid slots, of which your exploration kit already eats three. Beyond those caveats, a Shield Extender or some Armor Plates might make the difference between successful retreat and successful ejection from your freshly destroyed ship.