The question comes to mind when the Enterprise engages into warp drive. The way warp drive works, as I understand it, is that depending on the amount of energy expended by the Enterprise determines a specific warp factor the Enterprise is traveling. That aside, each warp factor is a measure in multiples of light speed.

In context to Einstien's thoery of relativity, there's a sort of consensus in that as you aproach the the speed of light, time starts slowing down. Furthermore, at the point at which exceed the speed of light point time travel occurs. Does Star Trek use a different theory?

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    Einstein never said that exceeding speed of light would make you travel in time. Relativistic theories say that nothing can exceed speed of light. If you are exceeding speed of light, you are simply smashing the validity of those theories at that point of speed. For instance, those theories are not valid on Warp 2.
    – user931
    May 18, 2012 at 19:26
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    The 'slowing down' you are talking about is better known as Time Dilation, and has been demonstrated many times. But the same theory that predicted it ALSO says you won't be able to exceed light speed, as your power requirements to accelerate the ever-increasing mass will quickly grow beyond what is possible, becoming effectively infinite for that last few miles an hour needed to reach light speed.
    – K-H-W
    May 18, 2012 at 19:38
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    Star Trek doesn't break Einstein's theory.. With warp bubble, spacetime is no longer uniform in vicinity of starship for which Einstein's theory (and physics) isn't defined.
    – user931
    May 18, 2012 at 20:06
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    @BBlake Also, remember.. All physics laws (not just relativistic theories) are valid only if spacetime is uniform. This is the problem domain of physics. That's why it's called dimension. You don't need warp drive to prove whole physics wrong.. Just switch to non-inertial reference frame. Done! Warp drive is not smashing Einstein because its simply not moving with spacetime, but its distorting spacetime field with warp bubble.
    – user931
    May 19, 2012 at 5:42
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    @aramis You can't apply relativistic formulae to speeds greater than c. This part limits it mathematically: (1- (v/c)^2)^(1/2). If v is greater than c, (v/c) will be greater than 1. Squaring will make it more greater. Subtracting it from 1 will result negative number. And, if you are good at kid maths, you can't find real square root of a negative number.
    – user931
    May 20, 2012 at 6:55

3 Answers 3


Canonical Star Trek has never addressed, on screen, exactly what is being warped (space? time? both?), how warp drive works, or why there doesn't seem to be any meaningful time dilation effects. The Next Generation, which began a trend of trying to at least talk about the technology (usually in made up terminology) introduced the notion of a "warp field" that surrounds the ship, a notion also used in non-canonical Star Trek novels even before TNG, especially those by Diane Duane.

Exactly how this warp field works is, again, left largely to the imagination, but the end result is clear: no one in Star Trek ever worries about time dilation or other relativistic effects. Even ships traveling at sub-light speeds on impulse drive never worry about it, suggesting that some of the warp field's magic is used even sub-light.

So, it's really not that Star Trek denies relativity; it's that there's a technology that allows it to be sidestepped, and since we have no idea in the real world how to do that yet, the mechanism for how it's done is simply glossed over.

  • somehow this sounds a lot like the mass effect drive :o I guess now we know where it camr from =3
    – user6409
    May 18, 2012 at 21:03
  • In several of the non-screen (but still canon) sources, including the TNG Technical Manual, it is mentioned that ships travelling at impulse are affected by time dilation; it's even a part of the plot in a few books, including Star Trek Enterprise: The Romulan War: To Brave the Storm. This just never came up in any of the TV shows or movies; they just never travel at impulse long or fast enough for it to be an issue.
    – Cajunluke
    May 24, 2012 at 13:49

Warp drive is a type of Alcubierre drive, which works by distorting space around a small area.

No relativistic effects are felt because the ship itself isn't moving at relativistic speeds. Space is being distorted around the ship instead.

However, in TOS 1x06, The Naked Time, they execute a controlled implosion of the engines and, according to Spock, "travel faster than is possible, for normal space". This caused them to travel backwards in time. They were later able to duplicate the effect with the Slingshot effect, also known as the light-speed breakaway factor.

As a side note, warp factor isn't a multiple of the speed of light. The equations used are a bit more complex. (See the Background Information section for examples and actual equations)

  • Best answer I see here. Sadly TOS 1x06, as you said, disagrees with restricted relativity, though it may be a matter of the usual space distortion passing in the (vague and theoretical) hyperspace in which differences in speed can twist around time. (I've done a lot of physics and yes, hyperspace really exists in current theories. It's outside spacetime though.)
    – user6409
    May 19, 2012 at 18:33

According to scientists, in real life if a crew were travelling at speed appraching the speed of light time would be slowed down so from the outside looking into the spaceship everything would appear to be moving in slow motion, but from the inside looking at the universe everthing would appear to be moving quickly.

In Star Trek warp 1 is the speed of light, but even at speeds of warp 6 and higher we have seen all generations of the Star Trek universe have conversations via the viewscreen with people on a planet surface where the person at the other end appears to be moving in normal time.

Although Star Trek sometimes takes inspiration from real life science, it appears that they ignore or at least work around Einstein's Theory of Relativity or that it simply doesn't apply to warp speed travel.

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    That's incorrect. In real life if a crew would travel at speed nearing the speed of light everything looking from inside to outside would appear to be in slow motion and everything looking outside inside would also appear to be in slow motion because there is no Point Zero reference and it's relative speeds of one to another.
    – user6409
    May 18, 2012 at 18:39
  • That's exactly what I said! Did you read my comment?
    – Nobody
    May 18, 2012 at 20:31
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    you said that from inside out it time seems to go faster. time slows down for both sides. its a derivative of the twin paradox. the solution innvolves impulse systems etc, but certainly not what you said!
    – user6409
    May 18, 2012 at 21:01
  • No! What you just said is not what I said earlier. Tine does not slow down both inside and outside the spaceship, just on the inside so it looks like the rest of the universe is going faster! Stay in school!
    – Nobody
    May 21, 2012 at 17:32
  • I've edited Shingetsu's first comment to be less abrasive. @HappyBirthdayRobot read up on twin paradox that Shingetsu mentioned.
    – user1027
    May 21, 2012 at 17:45

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