When I saw Star Trek (2009) I noticed something very weird.

There is a scene in the movie where Scotty gets the specs to configure the transporters so that they can beam people between ships during warp. After Spock leave the computer, Scotty looks at the screen and says:

It never occurred to me to think of space as the thing that was moving.

The whole reason that warp is possible (since nothing can move at or faster than light speed without turning into energy) is that the ship is not moving, but the space around it does! Should this not be common knowledge for a Starfleet scientist?

  • "Since nothing can move at or faster than light speed without turning into energy". I always thought that turning into energy was exactly how things worked in Star Trek. Same principle as the replicators, transporters, and holodecks: matter and energy are interchangeable. Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 22:44
  • @Thunderforge Presumably the thrusters don't work on that principle, though; I imagine it would be difficult for engines, once converted into energy, to convert themselves back into matter Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 22:45
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    I don't know of any canon statement that "the ship is not moving, but the space around it does"--the explanations I've seen involve some sort of "subspace bubble" surrounding the ship that somehow carries it faster than light. Are you sure you're not thinking of the real physics model of the Alcubierre drive, which wasn't devised until 1994? If not, what's your source for the idea that this is how Star Trek warp works?
    – Hypnosifl
    Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 22:48
  • He's not talking about the object at warp, he's talking about the matter stream. Evidently when you beam an object at warp speed (e.g. FTL) it needs to create its own warp bubble.
    – Valorum
    Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 22:49
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    "Starfleet scientist" - Scotty is not a scientist. He is an engineer. His job is to know which equations to use and how to apply them, not what they actually mean from a theory perspective.
    – Kevin
    Commented Apr 10, 2016 at 2:33

1 Answer 1


In this scene from the 2009 Star Trek reboot, I think the intent is to remind us that the character Scotty is a brilliant, but human (and therefore flawed), engineer. He mentions having completed the calculations that should have, in theory, allowed long-distance transporter beaming between two moving points. He notes that he was "exiled" to a remote and lonely Starfleet station because his long-distance beaming test with an admiral's pet failed, and he can't understand why. The explanation supplied in the movie is that he had overlooked a simple factor: that space is also moving in addition to his beaming and destination points. This is a factor that is probably negligible when beaming, say, from orbit to a planet's surface or ship-to-ship when the ships are relatively close. Even if the two ships are both moving at warp speeds, sensor data could allow the transporter to compensate if the distance is not too great. (Note: None of the Star Trek series or movies ever establish how a transporter beam travels faster than light.) Back to the question: In his previous calculations, Scotty had overlooked the fact that everything in space is moving outward from the center of each galaxy. The galaxies in the universe are moving relative to each other, and if I recall an astrophysics lecture correctly, not all parts of space are moving at the same rate. I think (maybe, possibly, kinda sorta) that prevailing theories about entropy and the origins of our galaxy and the universe indicate that the parts of our galaxy slow down as they get farther from its center, which means Scotty overlooked the differences in relative motion of the origin and destination points pertinent to a long-distance transport. These differences in relative motions would be negligible for "normal" distances, amounting to irrelevant errors of a millimeter or two (or the transporter might automatically take them into account). Over longer distances, however . . . . Remember that Scotty himself missed his target slightly and almost drowned in that scene from the movie -- a nice bit of comic relief worthy of Gene Roddenberry's original vision/design/creation of this character (IMHO).

Now, about warp travel and lightspeed. In the Star Trek canon, I don't think warp travel and transporter technology are related. My understanding is that "warp" travel, in theory, works by encasing your vessel in a controllable energy field that contracts the density of space in front of your ship while expanding it at an equal rate behind you (sort of surfing a wave in space), essentially moving your vessel outside of normal space-time where the speed of light and Einstein's relevant theories about matter and energy don't apply. When Star Trek began in the Sixties, there wasn't even any theory in physics that supported warp travel as a concept; it was just a long-established science fiction literary device to get around that pesky lightspeed limit. In the 1990s, however, that changed. If you're really interested in actual warp (FTL) travel theory, Google the theoretical physicist Miguel Alcubierre, but don't look at the math unless you are Stephen Hawking or someone similar.

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    There is a lot of misinformation with regards to real-world physics here.
    – Kyle Kanos
    Commented Apr 11, 2016 at 14:12
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    Damn, man, try throwing in a paragraph or ten. Commented May 10, 2016 at 4:06
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    @KyleKanos The answer is not even correct on Star Trek physics: "essentially moving your vessel outside of normal space-time". Nope. Warp is regular space (hence the visible streak of a ship moving). Transwarp and slipstream could be considered hyperspace though.
    – user45485
    Commented May 10, 2016 at 8:59
  • @Hans You're not quite correct there. In Star Trek the star ships are surrounded by a warp field that separates them from real space. See TNG Remember Me where Doctor Crusher is trapped in her own warp bubble universe. The fact that we "see" ships zipping around in what looks like real space is just to give viewers something to relate to.
    – Xantec
    Commented Jun 23, 2016 at 17:10
  • @T-1000'sSon : That would result in an average of less than 2 sentences per paragraph. ONE more may be appropriate (perhaps where CMW says "Back to the question"). However, there's no need for excessive line breaks or white space. Your very suggestion indicates modern youth who hasn't read lots of books in print (not to mention the foul language also suggesting such an idea). CMW is not in major error just for having a different style.
    – TOOGAM
    Commented Jun 23, 2016 at 19:50

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