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In the last scene of Star Trek (2009), the Enterprise got trapped in the gravitational field of a black hole.

They even had to blast warp core to escape.

Light can't escape a black hole if it's inside the event horizon. The Enterprise was probably in the ergosphere of a black hole from where even light can easily escape. The Enterprise was a warp-capable vessel which could beat the speed of light. So, the Enterprise was able to escape from even inside of event horizon (if spacetime didn't screw up things under event horizon). Why was gravitational field in black hole ergosphere a matter to the Enterprise?
Do you have an explanation?

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I don't remember that scene in detail, so I'm not sure if there are specifics in the movie that would alter what I'm about to write (until I go back and watch it again), but here's my thought: it didn't matter that the Enterprise was in the ergosphere specifically. What was giving the ship trouble was simply that it was really close to a black hole. The ergosphere only extends out to twice the radius of the event horizon, which puts an upper limit on how far away they could have been. When you're that close to a black hole's event horizon your primary concern should be doing anything possible to avoid getting pulled inside. This might entail some sort of slingshot maneuver or just pointing your engines straight out, but whatever you do, it's going to require accelerating yourself up to some significant fraction of the speed of light. This would probably represent quite a strain on the impulse engines.

Now, you may ask, why couldn't they just fire up the warp drive? That I can only speculate on, but it seems quite reasonable that warp drive wouldn't work properly in the vicinity of a black hole. After all, as I understand it, warp drive basically works by encapsulating the ship in a "bubble" of spacetime and then propelling that "bubble" at speeds faster than light relative to the rest of the universe. But the spacetime around a black hole is already highly warped, and in the ergosphere it is already moving relative to the outside universe at speeds faster than light. It stands to reason that this could interfere with the normal operation of the warp drive.


UPDATE: I just rewatched the relevant scene (5 minutes ago :-P), and it is indeed the intense gravitational pull of the black hole that is given as the explanation for why the Enterprise was trapped. But on the other hand, the depiction of the black hole in that scene was completely inconsistent from the perspective of current (real-world) physics. The Enterprise was considerably further from the black hole than the tails of the Scimitar, which themselves passed through the interior of the accretion disk, so the Enterprise must have been well outside the event horizon of the hole. From a visual estimate I'd put it at 10 to 20 times the Schwarzschild radius, plus it was above the rotation axis, not along the "equatorial" plane, so there's no way it would have been in the ergosphere, much less inside the event horizon itself. Also note that Sulu acknowledges that the ship does jump to warp. Since they were well outside the event horizon, the gravitational pull of the black hole should not have been sufficient to hold them there. (And even if it were, if warp drive wasn't enough to get them out, blowing the warp cores certainly wouldn't help.)

  • Thanks again... your answer looks reasonable, but Warp drive encapsulate ship in "Subspace" bubble (not Spacetime bubble)... This subspace bubble distort spacetime continuum to move faster than light w.r.t. rest of universe! Can you please modify your answer to compatible with warp drive propulsion theory... – Baby Yoda Jan 1 '12 at 11:24
  • Sorry I missed your comment at first, but this answer is compatible with what little information I can find about warp drive propulsion theory. I've based it on chapter 5 of the ST:TNG technical manual, which talks about warp field layers slipping off into subspace, but never (that I saw) about a bubble of subspace encapsulating the entire ship. Besides, it's clear from the show that a starship exists in a region of spacetime that is moving at superluminal speed with respect to the rest of the universe. – David Z Feb 1 '12 at 4:20
  • No. Subspace bubble is correct. In ST: Deep Space 9, it has been mention clearly. Anyway, try this link for more clarification: en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/Warp_drive – Baby Yoda Feb 1 '12 at 9:19
  • OK, so the technical manual didn't mention the subspace bubble. I'll admit that my last comment is a little off, but my answer says nothing about subspace. Unless you have a citation that a spacetime bubble is not formed, I see nothing in my answer that is incompatible with warp drive propulsion theory. – David Z Feb 1 '12 at 19:53
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    I did read the link, but I don't understand at all how you're getting "no chance of spacetime bubble" from "distorting the local spacetime continuum." The FTL motion of the bubble is the distortion of spacetime. – David Z Feb 2 '12 at 1:07
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I'm not a physics geek, but based on Wikipedia's description of an ergosphere, it doesn't really sound like a place where you want to be (whipping around the blackhole at superluminal speeds). And just because it's possible to escape doesn't mean it's easy.

First of all, the greater the mass of an object, the greater the effect it will feel from gravity (i.e. F=m*a).* So it just doesn't make sense to say "where even light can easily escape". Light travels at lightspeed normally (without needing to generate a warp field that distorts spacetime) and is technically massless (sorta), so a photon can escape a gravity well much easier than a huge hulking starship.


Secondly, the easiest way to escape the gravity well of a black hole isn't to fight the gravity head-on; it's to orbit the black hole until you reach escape velocity. IIRC, Enterprise wasn't orbiting the black hole. And as they were already extremely close to the black hole, which was rapidly growing, they probably didn't have time to re-orient themselves to break free by orbiting it. Hence why they needed to resort to extreme measures.

As for why they didn't just jump to warp, it's very possible that the extreme distortion of spacetime around the black hole made this impossible. The black hole could have affected subspace, which would render their warp drive unusable (just as the omega particle's destruction of subspace does the same), or there could have been some other interaction.

But the point is, they did escape. They weren't permanently trapped. If they had been inside the event horizon, then it wouldn't have just been really, really, really difficult to escape. It would have been impossible to escape. So the fact that the incident happened outside of the event horizon makes perfect sense.


Edit:

Upon revisiting the scene, it appears that Enterprise is orthogonal to the rotational plane of the blackhole. This means that it's unlikely to be in the ergosphere since the ergosphere and the event horizon meet at the poles. Though this couldn't have been a rotating (Kerr) black hole in the first place, since the rotation of Kerr black holes is derived from the rotation of the star it formed from. If that's the case, then only the accretion disk is rotating, not the black hole itself.

It also appears that Enterprise did go to warp, but even at maximum warp they remained stationary. So the only way I can think of to explain why they didn't escape is:

  1. In Star Trek, subspace is a part of the spacetime continuum that is distinct from but confluent with normal space. All parts of space naturally has a corresponding area of subspace (unless destroyed), and distorting subspace also distorts normal space, so the reverse is probably equally true.

    As a modification of David Zaslavsky's explaination, they had a warp bubble, but the local spacetime was so distorted by the black hole, the subspace displacement field (which also works by warping space around the vessel) wasn't able to move the Enterprise at all even at maximum warp.

  2. Red matter naturally forms rotating black holes, and Enterprise was inside the ergosphere. And since space itself is rotating at FTL speeds within the ergosphere, even being at warp they could still appear to be stationary.

    However, this explanation has so many flaws that any complete explanation would be incredibly contrived. For instance, the size of the black hole and Enterprise's relative placement and orientation don't add up. Secondly, if this had been the problem, they could have just turned 180° and accelerated in the same direction as the frame drag.

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    First thing first, you must know: "Escape velocity has nothing to do with mass of escaping object".. in fact, what an object feels from gravity is independent of its own mass.. That's why g is same for elephant as well as ant. Plus, they both need 11.2 Km/s to escape from earth... – Baby Yoda Dec 31 '11 at 12:03
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    I didn't say that Star Trek (2009) contained the omega particle. I simply gave that as an example of how disruptions to subspace can disable warp travel. It's plausible that being that close to a rapidly growing black hole can also distort subspace in a way that prevents the ship from jumping to warp. And if you've watched any of the Star Trek series, you'd know that there are many circumstances that can disable warp travel. The lack of omega particles or continued access to subspace transmission does not equate to warp being an option. – Lèse majesté Dec 31 '11 at 12:21
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    The greater an object's mass the greater the effect it will feel from gravity. That is fact. Force = mass * acceleration. Gravity accelerates all objects at the same rate, so if the object is more massive, it's feeling a much stronger force--hence requiring more energy to escape--hence being more difficult. Likewise with trying to escape a gravity well by accelerating in the opposite direction instead of taking a perpendicular path and achieving escape velocity. I don't understand what you're failing to grasp here... – Lèse majesté Dec 31 '11 at 13:15
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    Memory Alpha's article on warp drive suppors the 4th paragraph of this answer. It doesn't state it directly, but what it says about distortions and such makes it seem highly probably that this is an issue. – Tango Dec 31 '11 at 16:48
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    @Lèsemajesté Your explanation in the comments is correct, but the answer is not, because it implies the wrong thing (without stating either explicitly). More force is needed to reach escape velocity for more massive objects, but that's due to inertia. Escape velocity itself doesn't come into that consideration, and will be the same for all objects. – Izkata Dec 31 '11 at 17:18
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I have no real-world physics answer to a scene from a science fiction movie, but my theory is this.

The 'black hole' in the scene is artificially created via the red matter from the squid-ship. For all we know the physical laws that govern a red-matter-black-hole are different from a regular black hole, and thus a warp-capable ship just might not be able to escape some unique force produced by this rmbh. I call this yet-undetected force the Abrams field.

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If you recheck the movie, you will notice that when Kirk opened fire on the Narada, the Enterprise was extremely close to it. Instead of pulling his ship away to maximum distance and THEN firing on Nero, Kirk instead fired from a proverbial spitting distance. That's basically how the Enterprise got trapped by the gravitational field of the black hole.

In TNG and VOY, areas of space with sufficiently strong gravitational fields (black holes included) did interfere with Warp drive. Subspace fields can be collapsed under such circumstances, and since Starfleet ships utilize subspace fields around them to not just lower their mass, but also to formulate Warp bubbles (and likely other normal operations), it is quite likely that being so close to the singularity would destabilize the Warp field.

Mind you, we also saw that ships can get away from black holes (as sublight) with a little ingenuity, and subspace fields COULD be established under extreme circumstances if you can provide the needed energy, or modulate them so they could work there. Often times, modulating the existing subspace fields and adapting them to the situation works better than just pumping more power into them does.

In Voyager 'Hunters' episode, when the ship approached the Hirogen communication station, the station was emitting strong gravitational fields from 2 Ly's away. Voyager even weakened the station's containment field to use the gravitational eddies against the Hirogen. Prior to doing this, Janewas asked Kim to do the following: JANEWAY: Don't worry, we're going to be ready for it. Harry, create a low level warp field around Voyager. Sublight energy level. That should help counteract the gravitational pull.

So, gravitational pulls CAN be counteracted using subspace field emissions... but Voyager was also more than a century ahead of the Enterprise in 2009, and when the ship was caught in the gravitational pull because the Hirogen wouldn't stop firing, this is how Voyager escaped: JANEWAY: Open the antimatter injectors to one hundred twenty percent. KIM: Captain, that could breach the core. JANEWAY: So will that black hole. Now just do it.

Voyager took place over 100 years after 2009... and it is possible that doing the same thing on the Enterprise would not have been successful (its supposed to be a much less powerful ship, so it simply might not have had enough energy to do that).

Opening the antimatter injectors to 120% on Voyager to escape the Black hole could be equivalent to detonating over a century older Enterprise's warp cores and ride the shockwaves out (Voyager rode the shockwaves too in various situations).

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The movie seems to more a depiction of a wormhole then a black hole. After the destruction of the planet Vulcan and also the Romulan ship the "black hole" closes. I do not think a traditional black hole would do this.

In both cases the "black hole" has a distinct "mouth" that consumes matter around it. A true black hole would not have this directionality of how it consumes matter around it.

So it would seem to me that the Enterprise could have experienced two different effects. One was an effect on space time that prevented the formation of effectiveness of its warp drive, and the other a physical attractive force that was affecting matter in normal space. Detonating the warp core would overcome the physical attractive force -- more of a suction force.

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I would expect that a black hole would interfere with the warp drive. I think that has happened a few times in star trek history

  • This answer could be improved with some concrete examples of black holes interfering with the warp drive. – Null Sep 9 '16 at 1:58

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