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Under the viewscreen on many Federation starships, there are a series of lights that constantly run through a chase or 'marching ants' pattern. What's the reason for these lights? Are they status indicators or some part of the viewscreen projection system?

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    I believe they are an intricate artistic methodology referred to by the specialists as "oooouuuu SHINY" – DVK-on-Ahch-To Oct 12 '12 at 1:19
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    I always thought they were indicators - at least on the original series - of something having to do with the sensors, indicating they were operating; I have no particular information to back up that theory though. – eidylon Oct 12 '12 at 2:37
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    Those are Blinkenlights en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blinkenlights (How to add links in comments?) – user1129682 Oct 12 '12 at 22:07
  • @user1129682 Looky here – ApproachingDarknessFish Apr 30 '17 at 19:51
  • @ApproachingDarknessFish thanks buddy, after half a decade i finally figured it out by myself. but thanks for caring! – user1129682 May 2 '17 at 12:29
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According to the (Paramount-approved) McMaster Bridge Blueprints, the lights under the TOS viewscreen relate to the ship's sensors, presumably confirming that the viewer is working correctly.

enter image description here

As to their purpose in TNG, the simple truth seems to be that they're utterly useless and exist solely to create a mental linkage between TOS and TNG for fans

"While creating these designs with Herman Zimmerman, we heard a tremendous amount of angst among the fans that we were 'replacing their [original] show,'" Probert says. "So I included clues that hopefully would calm their concerns." Those clues include chasing lights below the viewscreen, and a ship's diagram and dedication plaque similar to those from TOS. "Instead of being at the back of the bridge, they're on either side, near the front," he adds. "Just above the food replicators — which were never used."

Star Trek: The Next Generation 365

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Almost everyone looks towards the main viewscreen, so it's almost certainly all about Red Alert. A whole bunch of other unnecessary/unused lights on the bridge also exist that only turn on during emergencies:

RedAlert on the Bridge (Actually, the one above the door may usually be on, but without a color tint. I just quickly circled some Red Alert lights from TNG 1x21, The Arsenal of Freedom)

I have no doubt those running lights do the same. There could be some important extra information conveyed through them (perhaps it's a battery meter for antimatter reserves?), but I don't recall the lights ever actually being mentioned in the series.

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    I take it NOBODY who designed the Enterprise ever read Three-Mile Island postmortem report? – DVK-on-Ahch-To Oct 12 '12 at 1:56
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    @DVK Nor do I know what you're referring to... – Izkata Oct 12 '12 at 1:58
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    If I recall correctly, they found that the Three Mile Island Nuclear Reactor Accedent was at least in part caused by HCI design flaws, including "too many indicators". – DVK-on-Ahch-To Oct 12 '12 at 2:02
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    In other words, Don't Design Your Warship Or Nuclear Plant Like It's A Geocities Page lesson of design. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Oct 12 '12 at 2:03
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    @DVK Ahh... In that case, I must disagree. It looks like there were too many different indicators, and one that was particularly badly designed, that appeared to be giving conflicting information. Star Trek's Red Alert lights are all over the ship, but have exactly one meaning - the ship is in danger. It's a good way to make sure everyone knows to get to safety, and stay there. – Izkata Oct 12 '12 at 2:09
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Well, it was my belief that in the original series (TOS), the chase lights have 2 modes. The first one being 2 lights next to each other - alternating left and right, and the more common line left to right. In Star Trek IV it switches to the format we see today. In TNG, DS9 and VOYAGER they are the equivalent to the CPU lights on a modern PC. Note that in Star Trek IV and later that only have one mode: 2 lights moving outwards towards the middle. Note that Voyager has 2 sets of chase lights: one under the view screen and one above the view screen.

enter image description here

In the unaired pilot of TOS, it had this view screen
enter image description here

And here is the NX-01 view screen
enter image description here

And in the JJ Abrams reboot, they don't even have chase lights. enter image description here

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    That's because in the reboot lens flare takes the place of chase lights. – MikeBaz - MSFT Nov 11 '12 at 4:53

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