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I know that the lighting system for the models/3d models is used for theatrical effects and for the scene, but is there an in-universe explanation?

Examples: enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here

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    There is no in-universe explanation: not everything has one. – user366 Aug 3 '11 at 7:20
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    It could be coming from the closest star, if you think about it, it is very possible there is always a light source from some star with an unimpeded view. If you think about it, even on a moonless night on Earth there is still some light given off by the stars, imagine if we were "closer" or not covered by different layers that each absorb a little light. – Sydenam Aug 3 '11 at 7:57
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    nice theory, Sydeman, except you see the same when they're in deep space (even in system, when not near to a star) where the illumination from stars just wouldn't be enough to cause this. In fact there you have the answer: it's studio lights used because any realistic display would just be completely black with nothing to see. Same reason you hear sound in external scenes. In space it should be complete silence, but that doesn't make good television. – jwenting Aug 3 '11 at 9:22
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    Well, when they're in deep space, they pay another ship to follow them around with bright spotlights so they always look good and they broadcast sound effects over subspace channels to all the ships around them whenever they do something so they just seem that much cooler. – BBlake Aug 3 '11 at 12:12
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    I actually just watched an episode of Voyager where the ship was traveling through a vast dark section of space. In the exterior shots for that episode, the ship was only ever illuminated by its own lighting and was in shadows throughout. So at least in that episode, they accounted for the lack of lighting. – BBlake Aug 5 '11 at 2:40
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There is no very good in-universe explanation for this, as Star Trek has addressed this issue incompletely and inconsistently. However, when the Enterprise was being refitted for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the show's designers realized the same thing you did: Large parts of the film took place in interstellar space where there's no convenient light source, but the viewers needed to be able to see the ship. Perhaps we can assume that the designers of the refit decided that people outside the ship should be able to visually identify the ship.

They (the designers of TMP or the Enterprise, take your pick) came up with the solution of having the ship light itself. If you look closely, you'll see that the ship carries its own floodlights and shines them on select parts of the ship. This wasn't a complete solution, as they still used fill lighting on the model, but it at least added a slight level of realism.

USS Enterprise-A showing self-lighting

Enterprise-A

This seems to have been abandoned for the Enterprise-D design used in The Next Generation. However, the Enterprise-E displays similar lighting:

enter image description here

As a footnote, in Night, an episode of Voyager, the ship was traveling through a starless void, and the ship was shown to be much, much darker from the outside.

In summary, there's a lot of artistic license included in what you see on-screen. However, we've been thrown a bone in that the ships light themselves, at least a little bit.

Voyager in a starless void

enter image description here

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    Great answer. As for why the Enterprise-D didn't have exterior lighting, I posit the explanation is completely out-of-universe; most of the movie enterprises have the "nameplate lighting" because the movies have bigger budgets and more attention can be paid to detail. The singular exception is the Enterprise-D, because the D from Generations is supposed to be EXACTLY the D of the series; not a refit, not a recommission. So, it has to match the series EXACTLY or viewers can be confused. – KeithS Jan 6 '12 at 20:38
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    After watching that same Voyager episode (Night), I started assuming that it is basically starlight and that exterior views are in some sort of enhanced / night vision mode (in a camera that exists somewhere on the boundary between in-universe and out-of-universe). – HNL Feb 12 '12 at 15:06
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    @HNL The main problem with that explanation is contrast. The ships have floodlights and lit windows, which would be much brighter than any reflected starlight - and yet you can still see the "starlit" hull clearly, while also seeing the directly lit areas just as clearly. This either suggests some very special contrast management in the cameras, or that the incident light is much more intensive than starlight. Or just consider the ST shows Federation propaganda, and you're fine - TV crews following the flagship with their own light, or reënacting "historical moments". – Luaan Mar 7 '17 at 12:27
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When you think about it, it’s very rare to see the ship at impulse in true interstellar space. Mostly they’re in star systems where the local sun would light the ship at least as well as spacecraft in our own solar system.

At warp it’s hard to say how it works, but there are the rainbow effects so clearly some measure of visible spectrum is present.

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I would say because no one would watch a show were all out side shot were blackness, sometimes you just need to remember that they are going to need to take "liberties" to make the viewing experience more fulfilling. When it comes down to it we want to watch good television not necessarily technically accurate TV.

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    This is probably true, but the question is asking for an in-universe explanation. – neilfein Aug 14 '11 at 23:55
  • Some questions don't have answers, so there is no in-universe explanation. – Keith Morrison Mar 8 at 4:59
  • Could the light be computer generated for the crew to feel comfortable - like looking out their window when on Earth? – eliza doolittlethings Mar 18 at 22:48
  • I would say that could be an explanation if the light moved across the viewports or turned on and off in some way, having the equivalent to bright street light outside day and night (subjectively) outside your viewport seems counterproductive if it is the in-universe reason. – Vaughn Mar 19 at 19:05

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