Not sure if this is a question for SciFi SX or Physics SX.

In Star Trek Discovery (Season 1 Episode 9) the USS Discovery (aka good guys) are in war with the Klingons (bad guys). The bad guys have some technology which renders their space ships invisible. While trying to crack their invisibility cloak here is the explanation offered by a character on how it works:

We suspect the Klingon Cloak generates a massive gravitational field, one the that bends light and other electromagnetic waves around the ship.

Clever, so if light/EM waves cannot hit it (gets warped around, maybe something like gravitational lensing around a black hole?) so it's not possible "see" the ship. My question is does that hold up?

I mean not the fact they can generate such as massive gravitational field, let's assume they can. A couple of things:

  1. From the "Bridge" of the enemy warship they can see outside and see the planets and the USS Discovery. But won't light outside also be so convoluted as it falls into the dense gravitational hole of the ship that it would simply be impossible to resolve "shapes"?

  2. They say to detect the ship while cloaking they need to plant sensors and run the data via complex algorithm (note: they get the data while the cloak is so off, so sensor data can reach the USS Discovery). But why go to that length? Won't it be easy to detect massive gravitational fields easily?

Just want to satisfy my curiosity and understanding, not looking to nitpick a TV Shows science.

  • Would be a good question to ask over on physics site as well as here. The physics answer would be impressive. A question I'd add: if they're generating such a strong gravitational field, why don't their ships get all scrunched up? (Correct answer is that it's typical Star Trek science - works perfectly for this one thing, never mind that messy other stuff.)
    – Tim
    Nov 13, 2017 at 20:22
  • 2 - They get the data while the cloak is on, not off. After beaming over, they start a rapid jump/fire/jump/fire sequence to put the Klingons on the defensive and make them cloak. The cloak doesn't block the sensors from transmitting outwards.
    – Izkata
    Nov 14, 2017 at 5:26
  • 1
    You're correct that this might be a better fit at Physics as it's not on topic here.
    – Möoz
    Nov 15, 2017 at 23:42

1 Answer 1


All you stated is why the cloaking technology is so rare.
  Here is a good read on stealth: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences-and-law/political-science-and-government/military-affairs-nonnaval/stealth and of interest is current Russian device which creates a plasma field that flows around the aircraft. Plasma absorbs radar. It's relatively small, under 100kg and can be retrofit to existing aircraft - Kirk can steal one!
   Did you ever see the episodes where Kirk & company stole a cloaking device the size of a 5 gallon bucket? Or other series where they "install the cloaking device"? If it was this gravitational field generator inside the ship what would happen to the ship? I think once Scotty had to hook it up to the shield generator and that's why they can only have one or the other. But are "deflector" shields and the shields they use as armor the same? Or do they require different tuning, one to operate on low frequency for physical objects they might run into while zooming around space and the other for high frequency weapons? Numerous times they blur those lines and have different shield generators around the ship ("aft shields at 10%, captain"). So according to the majority of lore throughout the series the cloaking device was a type of shield that prevented electromagnetic sensors either throu absorption or bending/reflecting like current stealth tech with radar but powerful enough to work in higher visible light frequency. Tachions (high energy non relativistic particles) work to detect but generating them is difficult and like using a very weak flashlight in a huge area or just a laser pointer to light your way through a pitch dark barren landscape in 3 dimensions.
  Plus the cloaking device would have to mask any heat (primary problem on spacecraft is heat dissipation) and EM signals going out, including it's own sensors and engines. It would also block magnetic detection which would probably be the easiest was to find a hunk of metal in space.
The multiple jumping Discovery was doing was to create a profile of minute imperfections in the cloak that would otherwise be rejected as noise (space does have stuff in it so there would always be some discarded detection as too small to be a ship but taken together would create a pattern). I suppose this simulates having a very large array of detectors and is actually how current anti-stealth tech works - by connecting a consistent series of repeating background noise (stealth aircraft have the radar signature of a hummingbird but if that hummingbird keeps showing up with a consistent direction and super fast speed it's probably not a bird).

  For the gravity part...does anyone else notice that they are creating incredibly gravitational fields on every deck of the spaceships? Perhaps there's a very localized way of explaining this and why the ships aren't covered in space junk gravitationally sticking to them and why with the simulated gravity of an entire planet they can orbit a planet and not cause major havoc or at least screw up their tides something terrible? So if short range gravitational fields are possible why not coat the ship in whatever the decks are made of and do it that way?
  In real life we've just got evidence of Higgs Boson that bestow mass to anything else. It's not how big something is it's how many Plank particles it has that determines mass and as far as we know only mass creates gravity. Maybe it'll turn out to be like magnetism and be that it's not the presence of certain atoms but the alignment of electron configuration within any substance how attractive it is. By creating an electric field around something we can magnetize it and now there are magnets made without metals https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plastic_magnet that are mindblowing.
  Point is we are just learning about magnets and have only cracked open the door on what mass is; gravity could undergo incredible re-understanding.
  Finally, our current detection of extrasolar planets is done by analyzing light and not gravity. Gravity is too weak (by current understanding) to detect at distance, it is inferred from the behavior of things nearby (how Neptune was discovered by a looking for it specifically after analysis of Uranus' orbit said something had to be there). So even with all their artificial gravity fields they still suck at detecting gravity at a distance but probably understandable in that detecting a ship by gravity would be like sensing a refrigerator magnet on the other side of the world. Even black holes are not detected by their gravity directly, but by their effect on things around them measured with visible/uv/ir light.

  • Interesting answer! Just one small comment: Planck particles are hypothetical minuscule black holes. They aren’t the “God particle” that bestows mass. That’s the Higgs boson, which is roughly one hundredth-quadrillionth the mass of a Planck particle.
    – Adamant
    Nov 14, 2017 at 2:18
  • Thanks, it was late at night, you are right.
    – Hebekiah
    Nov 15, 2017 at 18:59
  • Adamant - Gave myself a refresher course on topic, thanks for encouraging it. Had too many things competing for space between my ears at the same time. Do you think it conceivable to manipulate Higgs fields in order to affect the mass of objects? - I still don't get how Planck particles and Higgs field/boson relate to each other. Both seem fundamental to gravity. - I was unable after 2 hours searching to find who or when the term Plank particle was coined (all the cut-and-paste sources say it was named in honor of Max but not by whom or when).
    – Hebekiah
    Nov 16, 2017 at 22:14
  • Adamant, "minuscule black holes" still leave us with question of what a black hole is and is there anything to the Planck Star idea? Quantum chat these days seems to have Planck particles more as points arrayed like the formatting of the universe - like formatting a data disk or the grooves ins a record. Then are Higgs bosuns the bumps in the grooves? Could it be that there is mass "everywhere" but undetected because it's not aligned like magnetic material has aligned polarity? Where do I ask these questions without sounding stoned?
    – Hebekiah
    Nov 16, 2017 at 22:26
  • Oh and all that assumes a causality between mass and gravity that may just be a correlation. Is there causality? I'm spent now, thanks.
    – Hebekiah
    Nov 16, 2017 at 22:38

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