# Do ships at warp experience time dilation?

From the Gene Roddenberry quote in this answer:

'In answering these questions, I came up with the statement that "this time system adjusts for shifts in relative time which occur due to the vessel's speed and space warp capability. It has little relationship to Earth's time as we know it. One hour aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise at different times may equal as little as three Earth hours."'

Hold on a second, is this a reference to relativistic effects? Time dilation? Do ships at warp even experience time dilation? (I'd assumed the special-ness of subspace travel prevented this.) Are there any in-universe references to a crew at warp experiencing a different duration of time than people who are stationary (say, on a planet or in a station)?

• As a purely practical POV, there's no way warp travel causes any realistic amount of time dilation. It's never (at least in TNG or DS9) mentioned at all, and there are countless occasions of characters on a starship (which is moving at warp all the time) encountering friends or family without any reference to time dilation. Apr 3, 2012 at 14:41
• There is negligible amounts of temporal dilation and clocks onboard starships are using computers to correctly keep track of time outside of warp. Only travel at light speed (c) or just under light speed using impulse power experiences significant time dilation. There are sites online to calculate it for you. You find at speeds higher than warp two, the difference is negligible. May 5, 2012 at 19:14
• My two cents: If warp causes time dilation, then the math doesn't work, because gamma becomes imaginary when v > c. Then all the relativity equations spit out nonsense answers. Jul 3, 2021 at 8:28
• In my head canon the only thing that would work is if you take the relativistic clock you had before the subspace field turned on. That's considering all the other sources of time dilation in real space would be terrifyingly different if you suddenly separated from them. Jul 4, 2021 at 3:32

From Wiki:

Warp drive is a faster-than-light (FTL) propulsion system in the setting of many science fiction works, most notably Star Trek. A spacecraft equipped with a warp drive may travel at velocities greater than that of light by many orders of magnitude, while circumventing the relativistic problem of time dilation.

However, Wikia contradicts that with a more authoritative, if detail-less reference:

In "The Cage", Captain Pike orders the Enterprise to travel at "time warp, factor 7". Instead of traveling through time he simply refers to the normal warp factor. According to Star Trek Maps, the word "time" in that context is only a reference to the normal time dilation that occurs during all warp travel.

However, Memory Beta contradicts that with the reference to a book (which is not canon).

Since spacetime itself is moving and the starship is not actually accelerating, it experiences no time dilation, allowing the passage of time inside the vessel to be the same as that outside the warp bubble. (ST novel: Captain's Blood).

• It's notable that in early episodes of the Original Series, Kirk calls it the 'time-warp drive' specifically to indicate this. It warps spacetime around the ship, which is why it can violate physics (but not causality).
– Jeff
Apr 3, 2012 at 13:35
• The drive is actually based on scientific theory (though I'm not sure which came first; real-world theoretical physics or fictional FTL), and is known as the Alcubierre drive. The idea is that the drive creates a "bubble" in space-time enveloping the ship. The ship remains stationary within this bubble of space-time; the bubble itself is then pulled through surrounding space-time. As the ship remains technically at rest within the space-time continuum, and it's space itself that moves, Einsteinian special relativity isn't violated. Apr 3, 2012 at 22:30
• Could you provide links please? "Wikia" doesn't really help, for example. Apr 4, 2012 at 3:32
• So the summary for this answer: No, but maybe yes, but no? Apr 4, 2012 at 11:44
• If space time is moving and not the ship, doesn't that mean space time (and the planets within normal space time such as earth) would experience time dilation instead? Feb 12, 2016 at 12:29

I don't think there's need to attribute high-velocity induced time-dilation to this quote:

For one thing, the Enterprise regularly managed to encounter (time-)anomalies, such as the one on TNG's 5x18 Cause and Effect, where after a time-loop

Picard orders Worf to access a Federation time-base beacon to ascertain how long they have been in the causality loop. The beacon confirms that the Enterprise's chronometers are off by 17.4 days and Data resets them accordingly.

(which makes me wonder why they don't rather regularly access those beacons in order to detect temporal anomalies earlier)

And don't forget there's another source for time-dilation: Gravity (see ). The heavier a star, nebula, black hole etc. and the closer the Enterprise is, the slower time passes on-board. In fact - in truly free space, Enterprise's time even ticks (slightly) faster than on Sol-and-own-gravity-suffering Earth.

Roddenberry's quote suggests that he needed to make such a statement because he was aware of time dilation and the problems a faithful depiction could create for storytelling. Despite the apparent allowance his statement makes for ship time to pass differently to "stationary reference" time, the way stories typically played out on-screen, there was no time dilation and ship time was essentially always in lock step with "stationary reference" time. Of course there were exceptions - ships tinkering with time travel, getting caught in time loops or other space-time anomalies, but during routine operations under normal conditions, ship and crew remained narratively synchronized with the galaxy around them no matter the speed of travel or propulsion system in use.

• Can you offer any evidence to back up these bold statements? Jul 2, 2021 at 22:10
• @Valorum I'm not aware of any on-screen depiction of ship time passing differently to "stationary reference" time outside of unusual or exceptional circumstances such as space-time anomalies, experiments, intentional/accidental time travel, extreme/desperate maneuvers, etc.. I'm just saying that I don't think there is any explicit on-screen mention that crew will return home having aged at a different rate to home-bound friends and family, leaving one to infer a uniform progression of ship time, again barring exceptional events. I can't comment on the expanded universe / other Trek media. Jul 3, 2021 at 14:37

Is it not possible for the system to incorporate some sort of compensation. To speed up time to persons on the vessel so it matches the outside universe. Hence traveling FTL without any dilation effects.

• Is this a question or an answer? Jan 22, 2013 at 21:35
• Anyone (anything) capable of besting relativity can almost certainly manipulate it. Speeding up time (or slowing it down) within a warp bubble is no more absurd than creating the warp bubble in the first place. Jan 22, 2013 at 21:37
• @JohnO Except, the Federation was incapable of time manipulation until the slingshot maneuver Kirk discovered in TOS Jan 23, 2013 at 0:44
• Time travel's not the same thing as time dilation. Jan 23, 2013 at 1:14

Start Trek did inspire many real technologies to be invented, but I believe all of the physics presented predates the original series. Although I don't think that it was ever depicted, I suspect they would imply that since a ship traveling at warp is not actually moving, relativistic time dilation wouldn't apply. The armchair physicist in me would beg to differ though, because the ship IS traveling in relation to a planet - I would see the clock on the ship coming to a stop if it were traveling away from my frame of reference faster than light.

• I think you're confusing the way Warp Drive is stated to function in Star Trek with how folding space is depicted in other SF works such as Dune. In Star Trek I believe the ships are actually in motion, therefore a time dilation effect should be experienced without any kind of compensation. Jan 25, 2014 at 15:20

It's worth point out that Roddenberry says "One hour aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise" not "One hour aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise while at warp"

According to the Voyage episode Timeless, Voyager's impulse drives go as fast as 80% light speed. That should be fast enough to cause time dilation. There are a few mentions in cannon of some impulse drives being assisted by a subspace field. But generally they are treated as rockets. Star ships spend a considerable about of time in orbit and under impulse and I can't find any mention of the inertial dampers .

It's reasonable to assume that regardless of a whether a ship at warp experiences time dilation or not, Roddenberry could have been referring to the time a ship is under impulse power.

• I realize my answer doesn't address the title question. DVK's answer does a much better job of that. Jan 25, 2014 at 17:55

I'm going to say no, ships traveling at warp do not experience time dilation. The reason is that time dilation exists when an object travels at high speeds, in a warp drive ship, the ship doesn't actually travel through space at all, they are essentially removed from the space-time continuum within the warp field. The warp field protects the ship from speghettification but simultaneously protects it from external effects of time. In other words, it's not the ship that's traveling through space, but rather, the ship moving the space around itself.

A vessel traveling using Warp Propulsion would not experience time dilation. This because the ship is effective "warping" the space around them and actually traveling at slower speeds across continuously warped then unwarped pieces of space. The crew would experience time normally.

Impulse drive could cause time dilation though.

• Hi, welcome to SF&F. While this is the modern understanding of "warp," do you have any quotes that show this is how the term is used in the show? If so, can you then explain the Roddenberry quote in the question? Jul 2, 2021 at 21:11