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Given that the Star Trek franchise takes places within the Milky Way, and in particular near the galactic plane, I would expect that the view out the windows would show the Milky Way similar to the way it's seen from Earth: a dense band of stars that form a milky river across the sky.

Yet we never see anything like this in Star Trek, even when they are in deep space far from nearby stars that might produce enough light to wash them out.

Is there an explanation for this? Is it filtered out by the computer to make looking at nearby objects easier? Is there no in-universe reason for this and it's just a production oversight? Curious for any insights.

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  • I don't recall this ever being brought up in Star Trek. – LogicDictates Mar 11 at 0:04
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    Valid question, but starships are under no obligation to run in the galactic plane and windows pointing to the Milky Way. – user931 Mar 11 at 12:06
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    Stars look nowhere as impressive when looked upon from outside of Earth's atmosphere. – Mithoron Mar 11 at 14:15
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    To support your question, compare youtube.com/watch?v=zfV5irwYZMA (TNG viewscreen showing stars) with nasa.gov/image-feature/… and nasa.gov/content/… (shot from the ISS). I suspect that if they used a realistic starfield their "motion" effect wouldn't be obvious enough. – DavidW Mar 11 at 15:45
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    Some say ludicrous speed, @DarrelHoffman, others just go plaid... – FreeMan Mar 12 at 19:00
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You may note technically the view of the milky way looking out of a window would be not so great assuming the room lights are on. This is distantly related to why stars aren't in NASA photos because the other stuff in the picture is too bright.

For exterior shots it is artistic license and I can't think of any space franchise that have depicted the galaxy edge in the starfield in a realistic manner as you describe.

Notable mentions

  1. Star Trek V maybe came closest to depicting the milky way density line prior to entering the galactic barrier.
  2. Voyager episode "Night" showed zero stars when they were crossing a gap between galactic arms. Voyager never fails to disappoint but this was especially difficult to buy.
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    Not showing the Milky Way is probably more a matter of artist's neglect than of artist's license. I remember how textbooks used to imagine the Earth as seen from space, with far less cloud cover, and far less interesting cloud cover, than actually exists. – Invisible Trihedron Mar 11 at 2:21
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    @InvisibleTrihedron Even modern depictions of the Earth from space often omit the cloud cover - mainly because people want to see the part of the Earth they're familiar with from maps and just living on the surface: continents and oceans. The clouds just get in the way. – Darrel Hoffman Mar 12 at 14:28
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    @InvisibleTrihedron Those depictions included Star Trek itself: thereelbits.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/… Things got a bit better after the Apollo flights, and pictures like Earthrise entered the public consciousness (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earthrise) – Kaz Mar 14 at 7:35
  • @DarrelHoffman and Kaz: Well said. And yet here is this depiction in words from a children's book by Eleanor Cameron in 1958, Mr.Bass's Planetoid: "Beyond the edge of Lepton loomed the gigantic earth with five thousand miles of surface within range of their sight. Far off to the west, cloud masses, twisted by a giant airflow, covered Hudson Bay and the Northeastern United States. Near the Yucatán Peninsula it looked as though a hurricane were gathering, spinning like a pinwheel and beginning to move toward the mainland. Across the Atlantic, cumulus clouds streamed westward, ... – Invisible Trihedron Mar 14 at 13:43
  • ... chased by the trade winds. And beneath these layers of dazzling white clouds stretched subdued shades of gray and green and orange broken by vast areas of ocean, so dark as to be almost black. But over all these other colors, the great orb of earth glowed a soft, transparent blue as though wrapped in the gauze of its pale blue atmosphere." In 1958! Clearly, Eleanor Cameron was paying close attention to the first photographs shot in the space program. – Invisible Trihedron Mar 14 at 13:46
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Out of universe answer only, it's a continuity nightmare.

Scene #1 we see the milky way out of Janeways ready room window, She walks out to the bridge.

Scene #2 Janeway on the bridge, the view screen should show a complimentary view of milky way (can't be the same view, needs to take angles of view into account).

Distress call comes in, they've to go back the way they came

Exterior view of the ship (Milkyway needs to be shown in correct orientation)

Scene #3 Janeway back in her ready room, we need to see a different view of stars out her ready room window.

From a post production POV generic star fields for the win.

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  • Valid point, however, from the tiny distances from Janeway's quarters to the ready room (in relation to the vastness of the galaxy), would you realistically notice any difference in perspective? – FreeMan Mar 12 at 19:03
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    @FreeMan I think we’re talking about windows that are facing different directions, not parallax between two windows facing the same direction but being some distance apart. – KRyan Mar 12 at 19:11
  • @FreeMan: What KRyan said :) – Binary Worrier Mar 15 at 10:13
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Light pollution. The ship is well lit, and you're looking from a well lit room into the "darkness" of space.

The enterprise is well lit, so the stars would look dim by comparison. Just like how being in a bright room at night hides the outside, the bright lights in ten-forward would hide some of the milky-way.

Out of universe answer - Budget, and practical effects.

The "Jump to Warp" effect was done using slit-scan photography, which is what made the ship elongate. It was a great effect, but having a picture of the dense milky-way galaxy behind the ship might have given the trick away.

It's much easier to suspend a single "star" or a "supernova" by a string against a mostly black background instead of putting the milky-way behind it. Star Trek wasn't always a well-funded show, so it made sense to save effects budget for gorn costumes.

A few examples from https://www.diyphotography.net/emulate-slit-scan-photography-beautifully-weird-images/

enter image description here

enter image description here

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    On a starship the light pollution, lights and reflections off surfaces, ARE in your field of view. – sevensevens Mar 11 at 15:52
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    @Hobbamok Think of it like any brightly-lit room with a dark exterior. If you look inside through a window, you see normally. But if you look outside, what you mostly see is your reflection, unless you turn the lights off first. – Cadence Mar 11 at 16:25
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    Are you sure they actually spent money on the Gorn costume? – Michael Richardson Mar 11 at 16:25
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    @Cadence - updated to bright room + nighttime that's probably a better example. – sevensevens Mar 11 at 19:46
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    There are many scenes in rooms with dim light. The views through the windows should show more stars than the views in lit rooms, but they don't. Examples: 1 2 3 – Schmuddi Mar 12 at 7:56

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