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· Bane of Empires
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The Tau Empire's First Sphere of Expansion ended because their numbers were spread too thin and travelling the distances between Septs could take up to a generation or more.

The invention of the 'ZFR Horizon Accelerator Engine' (which allowed vessels to achieve "near-light speed") ushered in the Second Sphere of Expansion. Towards the end of this Phase the Tau successfully crossed the Damocles Gulf and settled regions beyond - resulting in their first contact with the Imperium, and eventually, the Damocles Crusade.

In the aftermath of the Damocles Crusade the Earth Caste were able to study a captured Warp Drive which they were able to use to develop their own limited method of Warp travel, which is one of the main instigators of the Third Sphere of Expansion.

That's how the latest Codex portrays it anyway. :)
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