Several units have the Gathers Intel ability, which allows players to have detailed information on the planet they are on. Mainly Scout Drones, Scout Starships and Orbital Command Stations have the Gathers Intel ability.
Depending on the Visibility option set in the game's lobby, the game doesn't show and hide the same things. This page will consider that the visibility is set to "Full Fog of War", which is the default setting. For details about the differences of the other settings, see the dedicated visibility page.
Intel is shared between Human players.
AI players don't use these rules and don't produce scouts.
A unit with the Blind constraint doesn't even provide the basic intel other units provide. For the purpose of determining if a player has visibility or intel at a planet, blind units don't even count as controlled units. All the rules below imply "non-blind units" each times "unit" is employed.
Before any Human unit access a planet, it is unexplored. On the galaxy map, unexplored planets are displayed by a small white dot, similar to neutral planets. Players have no information at all. If the game option "Show Unexplored Planets" is unchecked, the planet and its links are not even displayed.
The planetary view shows absolutely nothing, unless non-blind units are present.
If only units with no Intel ability have entered an unexplored planet, only the controlling AI's color is remembered by the game. The galaxy map shows a small colored star as usual, but the planet is still considered unexplored.
The first time an Intel unit enters a planet, it becomes explored. The game will remember the immobile units seen and display them on the planetary view and the galaxy map, even if players have no more ships on it.
If immobile AI units appear or disappear on an explored planet, the game will display it even if no Human unit came since. That fact comes from the fact that the game's engine stores explored-ness per planet and not per unit, and cannot tell if a specific unit was seen or not at the time of the last scout.
A planet with at least a Human unit on it displays all local units (Human, AI and allied) on the planetary view, but not on the galaxy view. The side panel only display controlled and allied units. Players cannot have a precise information on the exact quantity of enemy ships and must rely on sight and guesswork.
By dragging a selection zone over a group of ships, only the counts of controlled and allied ships in that zone are displayed.
The galaxy map filters only show data on controlled and allied units.
A planet with at least one Intel unit on it displays much more information.
The side panel displays enemy ships as if they were controlled by the players. Their quantities are precisely reported and their icons can be clicked to automatically zoom on them. By moving the mouse over their icons, their stats can be accessed more easily.
By dragging a selection zone over a group of ships, the count of enemy ships is also displayed.
The galaxy map filters can show data on enemy units, such as total strength or threat.
Once the galaxy (or a sufficient part of it) is explored, scouts might be used as pickets on AI planets to provide data on Threat.
Scout Starships are very useful when accompanying a fleet in AI territory: they provide Intel coverage on top of their many support abilities.
As an Orbital Command Station provides Intel at its planet, Human players can see the precise quantities of attacking ships until the station is destroyed. Then, a scout drone might be dispatched to provide Intel at the lost planet.