In Star Trek ships are frequently seen travelling many times faster than the speed of light.

My understanding of the theory of relativity is a little rusty but my understanding is that if you travel at velocities approaching the speed of light (Warp 1) then the flow of time is different for you than people who are stationary. This would result in your journey taking different amount of times from different frames of reference.

Am I wrong in my understanding or is Einstein's work being ignored for the sake of the story?

  • 1
    "Am I wrong in my understanding or is Einstein's work being ignored for the sake of the story?" - Given that warp is movement at speed faster than light I'd opt for the latter, yet I'm absolutely no physics expert either.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Oct 10, 2013 at 9:13

2 Answers 2


The theory of relativity, as we understand it today, would preclude faster-than-light travel altogether, and make near-light travel subject to time dilation, as you said, which makes for some very good science fiction, but really gets in the way of space opera, of fast ships travelling to and fro around the galaxy.

To achieve that, various science fiction authors and franchises have looked for ways to bypass relativity and its pesky limitations. These ways usually take the form of some sort of warp drive or hyperdrive or hyperspace travel, which basically means that the limits of relativity remain - in our dimension. But the new drive allows your ship to move to a different dimension/plane/hyperspace, travel a much shorter distance, and return. This leads to various effects like "rifts" between that alternate dimension and the regular one.

So yes, you can say that Einstein's theories are ignored - or at least, explained away with some technobabble and handwaving - for the sake of the story. The consistency, coherence and style of that handwaving is what makes for a believable sci-fi drive.

  • Kind of like Andromeda's slipstream and BSG's FTL
    – Liath
    Commented Oct 10, 2013 at 12:43

There are a couple of things at work here ... first of all, in order for a starship to travel at Warp Speed, they must create a Subspace Bubble (I believe this is also called a Warp Bubble) which encompasses the ship and everything within it. According to Memory Alpha:

A subspace bubble is an encompassing energy field which can be used to protect objects or people from various environmental effects.

This protects occupants from the effects of Einstein's theory. Remember also, that in the Special Theory of Relativity, Einstein predicted that as an object (containing mass) is propelled faster, it's relativistic mass increases to the point where there isn't enough energy in the universe to propel it to the point of the speed of light. We do not see this happening in the Star Trek Universe for the reason of the Subspace Bubble. It also protects the occupants from the effects of inertia as well (think of a bug hitting the windshield and you might get the picture).

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