In the Star Trek:TNG episode "The Defector" Data States:

RIKER: A cloaking device of some sort, to hide the entire base?

DATA: A cloaking device operating on the surface would be given away by visible distortion effects.

In an earlier season 1 episode of TNG "When the Bough Breaks" Data States:

DATA: Sensors indicate that the shield is electromagnetic, a complicated light refracting mechanism.

PICARD: A cloaking device?

DATA: Aye, sir.

LAFORGE: It's got to be pretty sophisticated to hide an entire planet.

A planetary cloaking device would have to mask it's enormous energy output as well as its gravitational pull.

Why would a cloaking device on a planets surface have a visible distortion effect as Data stated?

If an entire planet were cloaked in an earlier episode that Data knew about, why would he state that a smaller portion of a planet's surface makes distortions more visible?

  • 1
    No proof of this for an answer but I assume it would be because the planetary cloaking field extended beyond the atmosphere. I'm more interested in why no one noticed the Bird of Prey parked in San Francisco.
    – Boelabaal
    Commented May 14, 2015 at 7:18
  • @Boelabaal lmao! You'd think somebody would have walked into it?
    – JMFB
    Commented May 14, 2015 at 7:25
  • It was under water. Commented Jul 6 at 17:58
  • But it still does not make sense Commented Jul 6 at 17:59

2 Answers 2


"Visual distortion effects" means the cloaking field in contact with the surface around it would distort the surface and therefore be visible. You don't have this problem if you hide an entire planet because there's nothing adjacent to it.

Yes, this doesn't explain the Bird of Prey in San Fancisco in The Voyage Home. That one's just unbelievable/inconsistent.

  • Do you have a source for the definition of "Visual distortion effects" you are claiming? Do you have a source that proves it's where the cloaking field makes contact with the surface would be visible? What exactly would be visible at the point of contact?
    – JMFB
    Commented May 14, 2015 at 15:00
  • 1
    It's right there in the quote. "A cloaking device operating on the surface would be given away by visible distortion effects." The interpretation of this is pretty clear. Commented May 14, 2015 at 15:37
  • Why is it clear? I don't see the words "cloaking field", "field", "point of contact", or any facsimile thereof. If you can give some supporting evidence of this, other attempts at it in universe, script notes, etc. it'd be helpful.
    – JMFB
    Commented May 14, 2015 at 15:43
  • 2
    @JMFB: Dude, it is right there. The supporting evidence is the definition of the words "operating", "surface", "visual", "distortion", and "effects". This is not sci-fi it is just English. You don't have to prove something a trustworthy character states in plain English. Commented May 14, 2015 at 16:03
  • 1
    I'm with @ThePopMachine. Regardless of whether the distortion would be exactly along the ground or all around the field, the difference is that when it's "on the surface," the cloaking field has to struggle to hide this but not that, while hiding an entire planet means you can just hide everything, like you do with a ship.
    – Nerrolken
    Commented May 14, 2015 at 16:33

It all depends on how the cloak works as I see it. Is the cloak 'skin tight' or oval shaped? Well it doesn't seem to matter as either would cause distortions

(Excuse my bad drawing) Take this 'n' shaped building. The cloak merely allows light (and sensors) to pass through it. In both 'skin tight' and oval you would see the 'into' the rock as if its been dug out (even though the soil is still there, you see the other side of the field)
enter image description here

This wouldn't be a problem when you cloak a whole planet, but a cloaking field of any shape touching the ground would allow you to see into the rock (if viewed from above)

Now its been shown in 'Star-Trek: The Voyage Home' that the cloak is indeed skin tight. This is the landing gear of the Bird of Prey

enter image description here

And since Klingons got cloaking tech from the romulans in exchange for a few ships, it stands to reason Romulan cloaks would also have the same effect

As you can see its quite obvious that there is something there, Data was looking for strange patterns on the surface like this (thats why the said there was no signs of a cloak)

Just imagine cloaking 1 street with a skin tight cloak (not just a simple 'n' shape like in the drawing), you would see into the rock for each of the buildings foundations (This could be described as a 'visible distortion')

Also the planet Data was scanning seemed to have only a natural landscape, What Data was saying was simply 'no strange shapes that would be visible around a cloaked base/building, only natural landscape'

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