battles at warp speed

Discussion in 'Trek Tech' started by Kai Winn, May 22, 2010.

1. jolauCaptainCaptain

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Mar 4, 2004
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I would think simple physics might be at play here, similar to that of say throwing a tennis ball back and forth on a moving airplane. Throwing the ball forwards won't cause the ball to be thrown backwards. It's actualy moving at the speed of the airplane + the speed its thrown forward at. Gravity effects the ball, therefore it loses momentum, falls to the floor and comes back to you.
But uneffected by gravity, the ball would probably keep moving at the velocity it was thrown (velocity of the throwing person + velocity of the throw)

Ditto with say, photon torpedoes. Firing forwards, the torpedo is travelling at the speed of the firing ship + the speed the torpedo is travelling when it is fired.
Similarly, firing forwards, the phaser beam actually travels at whichever warp speed + the light speed of the phaser beam.

2. BrandonvFleet CaptainFleet Captain

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Jan 22, 2003
I don't think this explanation works, because if a ship cannot outrun it's own light cone while at warp, then warp speed is no longer FTL, because the ship will not be able to outrun a beam of light in any reference frame.

I think it is best to ignore relativity when dealing with warp speeds.

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Sure it can. Just not in its OWN reference frame. That's the thing about relativity: all objects are stationary in their own reference frame, the theory only predicts that an object cannot travel faster than light in other frames. Warp drive gets around this by warping space itself, literally changing the parameters of that frame so it becomes a non-inertial one and the normal laws of special relativity only apply locally.

True, but it offers a convenient explanation for why a phaser beam fired forward doesn't instantly loop around and hit you in the face. Since there's no such thing as a "true" reference frame, then by extension there's no such thing as "true" velocity, only relative velocity, so a phaser beam always moves at the same velocity relative to whoever's looking at it.

4. BrandonvFleet CaptainFleet Captain

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Jan 22, 2003
The way I picture warp drive working, is that a ship carries its own inertial reference frame along with it inside the warp bubble. So if a ship at warp fired a phaser forward I would expect that the beam - while inside the "warp bubble" - would travel at C away from the ship, just like relativity predicts. But where things get confusing for me is predicting what would happen after the phaser beam passes through the warp bubble and enters a different reference frame.

newtype_alpha, if I understand correctly you are saying that even once outside the warp field, the phaser beam will be observed to move at C away from the ship (from the ships pov).

The problem I have with that is this: Imagine that you have a radio transmitter at point A and a receiver one light-year distant at point B. Lets say that as soon as the transmitter emits a radio signal, a ship at point A goes to warp and travels toward point B. Since you say that even a ship at warp will observe light outside the warp bubble as traveling at C, this means that even if the ship is traveling, say, warp 9, the ship will not catch up with the radio signal. So how long does it then take the ship to travel from A to B?

Last edited: Jul 1, 2010
5. LeathcoLieutenant CommanderRed Shirt

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Mar 10, 2010
This is just a guess. The warp field of the other ship would be inside the shields, so weapons fired at warp wouldn't enter an enemies warp field unless their shields are down. Once their shields were down they'd have to drop out of warp or risk a hull breach from spatial objects striking the hull at warp.

As far as firing at warp, the object being fired should start out at the same speed as the ship doing the firing due to momentum. An increase of force behind the object being fired, whether torpedo or phaser/disruptor, would be sufficiend to get the weapon to the target.

I may be way off with all this, just an idea.

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The thing is, the ship is no longer in the same reference frame that it was when it made the transmission. So if you send the signal, wait a few minutes and then punch it into warp nine, you will indeed receive your own radio signal (in reverse, of course, and ridiculously blue-shifted) as you pass through it again.

The confusing part is what happens if you transmit WHILE at warp. YOU perceive the radio signal moving away from you at the speed of light. Your destination perceives it moving TOWARDS him at the speed of light. Under the conventional rules of special relativity--that is to say, mathematically-- BOTH of you would be correct; even more confusing is the fact that you would perceive your target recieving the signal just before you arrive and your target would perceive the signal arriving AFTER you arrive, and again--mathematically speaking--both of you would be correct.

The REALLY confusing part is that, five minutes later, when the transmitting ship drops out of warp just prior to arriving, he suddenly re-enters his target's reference frame and then gets to witness his radio signal reaching the target AGAIN, this time from the target's reference frame.

I'd have to break this down into stages for you to see it:
Stage 1
- Starship goes to warp at Point A, sends a signal towards Point B
Stage 2
- Ship's frame: Signal moves away from the ship at Lightspeed.
- Target frame: Signal moves towards B at Lightspeed.
Stage 3
- Ship's frame: Signal arrives at B.
- Target frame: Signal still moving towards B at lightspeed
Stage 4
- Ship's frame: Ship drops out of warp
- Target frame: Ship drops out of warp
Stage 5
- Ship's frame: Signal arrives at B
- Target frame: Signal arrives at B

Now wrap your brain around THIS: if the ship never drops out of warp, then it only perceives B recieving the signal once. That the ship's perception of reality and the target's perception of reality contradict each other doesn't matter at all, because both of them are still in different reference frames and are both mathematically correct with respect to the laws of physics vis a vis their own frames. It is only when the ship DROPS OUT OF WARP--or even when the target GOES to warp--that this condition changes and both enter each other's reference frames.

In a way, it's true that travel at warp is to travel through a slightly different universe. This is only because the presence of a warp field is fucking with the laws of physics around your ship so that those laws are different for you than they are for everyone else in the galaxy. That's why you can't change the gravitational constant of the universe, but you CAN change the gravitational constant of, say, a large asteroid you're trying to push out of your way.

7. mtblillieCaptainCaptain

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Oct 3, 2009
This is one big problem with warp drive in star trek, and most FTL drives in sci-fi for that matter. Roddenberry admitted that he had actually intended the ship to become transparent while at warp, since the vessel is moving so fast that light would not be able to keep up with it to be seen.

This however, does not really work for most audiences, so they made the ship opaque with stars streaking by.

-Although, I kind of always thought that instead of disappearing, it should be more like when you hear an airplane after it has already passed by. Maybe there is an instantaneous flash of light but by the time you see it the ship had passed by long before, and that is simply the amount of time it has taken for the light to reach your eyes or sensors or whatever. Iono I guess that wouldn't really work but it would be kinda cool.

8. BrandonvFleet CaptainFleet Captain

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Jan 22, 2003
Thanks for the detailed explanation, newtype_alpha.
Something that science-fiction almost always ignores, is that faster than light travel breaks causality. See here.

For the sake of suspending disbelief, I guess we have to assume that the relationship between space and time is somehow different at warp speed.

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^ Or just way too complicated to pay attention to. Since most of your target audience are not astrophysicists (and even physicists don't have an intuitive understanding of SR) it's not suspension of disbelief so much as suspension of detailed research.

10. Omega_GloryCommodore

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In TOS, virtually every battle where weapons were fired at warp speed occurred with the warp speed ship firing on a sublight target. The only exception may be the M5 incident but I don't recall exactly. When firing at a sublight target, the weapons do not have to be traveling at FTL....they just "drop out" so to speak like a plane dropping bombs.

11. blssdwlfCommodoreCommodore

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Feb 26, 2010
I don't think so. TOS had a pretty good mix of warp vs warp and warp vs sublight battles

"Balance of Terror" - Enterprise (warp and sublight) phasers at Romulan (impulse)
"Balance of Terror" - Romulan (impulse) plasma bolt at Enterprise (warp)

"The Ultimate Computer" - Enterprise (warp) phasers at Fed ships (warp)
"The Ultimate Computer" - Fed ships (warp) phasers at Enterprise (warp)
"The Ultimate Computer" - Enterprise (warp) torpedo at Woden (unknown)

"Elaan of Troyius" - Klingon Battlecruiser (warp and impulse) at Enterprise (impulse)
"Elaan of Troyius" - Enterprise (warp) torpedoes at Klingon Battlecruiser (warp)

"Journey To Babel" - Enterprise (unknown) phasers and torpedoes at Orion ship (high warp)
"Journey To Babel" - Enterprise (sublight) phasers at Orion ship (sublight)

"The Changeling" - Nomad (warp and sublight) torpedo at Enterprise (warp and sublight)
"The Changeling" - Enterprise (sublight) torpedo at Nomad (sublight)

"The Deadly Years" - Romulans (probably warp) torpedo at Enterprise (warp)

12. Omega_GloryCommodore

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I would have to disagree.

Balance of Terror…The Enterprise fired at warp 2 into open space (couldn’t get a lock on the Romulan). This is essentially the sci fi equivalent of dropping depth charges. The Romulans speed was never mentioned, only that her power supply was the same as what powered the E’s impulse engines. The Romulan torpedo is in fact a warp speed capable weapon as the Enterprise backed away at full emergency warp and was still overtaken; one of the few actually confirmed as warp capable.

The Ultimate Computer…the Enterprise was at warp in all cases, but the targets of her weapons were never specified as being at any particular speed. You can only make assumptions but they are just assumptions.

Elaan of Troyius....in this one the Klingon strafed a sublight Enterprise until the Enterprise went to warp. The Klingon was at sublight on the last battle pass as Sulu counts the range down at about 10,000 KM per sec or so. The Big E then pivots at warp two and apparently drops back to sublight as it was another ten or twenty seconds before she fired on the sublight battlecruiser.

Journey To Babel....in this episode the speed of the Big E is not confirmed. The attacker is at a much higher speed but that’s all we have.

The Changeling......the Enterprise speed is never mentioned. The episode is a mishmash of conflicting information concerning Nomad's weapon speed and range.

The Deadly Years….in this one, the Enterprise was at sublight before Kirk came back onto the bridge and ordered the ship to go to warp speed.

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Aug 26, 2003
...With amazing precision: basically, our heroes were firing their depth charges across fifty nautical miles and managing to rattle the enemy sub nevertheless. That is, the Enterprise had spent several minutes at the highest warp speed she could manage, putting maximum distance between herself and the Romulans - and no doubt the Romulans had been doing the same thing. The phasers then worked across that range and managed to damage the cloaked enemy ship, even when spatial near-misses shouldn't carry anything approaching the devastating effect of a depth charge near-miss.

Conflicting? The first bolt is "multiwarp speed", fired from a distance. Later this is established to be warp fifteen. The next hit comes from an unknown distance, because our heroes can't locate the tiny attacker, so no conflict there. The third comes from an enemy that's observed at 90,000 klicks, and the time the bolt spends traveling from that distance might indicate sublight rather than multiwarp speeds - but there's nothing particularly wrong with that. The Enterprise is always at range as far as Nomad's weapons are concerned.

Yet the Romulans had clearly forced the ship out of warp by using their weapons. There'd be no other reason for our heroes to stop.

Timo Saloniemi

14. blssdwlfCommodoreCommodore

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Feb 26, 2010
I'm not sure what part you disagree with me here. Enterprise at warp fires phasers at Romulan at impulse. Open space would mean shooting in the air but they were targeting and detonating phaser blasts close enough to warrant that they were in fact aiming at the Romulan ship. (Warp vs impulse and in the end, sublight vs impulse).

In the first wargame, the Lexington and Excalibur started the battle with one in front and the other behind the Enterprise at 200,000km and closing. When the Enterprise increased speed to Warp 3 one of the ships "closed on" the Enterprise. That would not have been possible if the opposing ships were at sublight.

In the second wargame we know that the Lexington's impulse engines were hit but she was still maneuverable on warp drive. We can make the assumption that she had to resort to using her warp engines, no? In anycase, since M-5 didn't slow the Enterprise down and the other three ships had to get out of her phaser range, we can also assume that at some point they moved away at a faster warp to get some distance. Considering also warp combat was standard procedure in "The Elaan of Troyius" we have no reason to believe that the other 4 ships wanted to wallow around at sublight with a warp driven starship fighting against them

Aren't you now making the assumption that the Enterprise drops down to sublight after the warp 2 pivot? ;-)

From the dialogue, there was no indication that Kirk intended to drop down to sublight after the warp two pivot (and he didn't order it prior to telling Chekov fire). However once the Enterprise went to warp the Klingon was able to score another hit on the Enterprise before the warp pivot. Either the Klingons at sublight hit the Enterprise when she jumped to warp two or the Klingons accelerated to warp to hit the Enterprise that was at warp.

We know that during the battle, the Enterprise was at unknown speed, but the attacker's first pass was at Warp 8. Further passes we just know as faster than the Enterprise. This would qualify the Enterprise (at unknown speed) firing at the Orion ship making warp passes.

However on the final run we know the Enterprise has cut power and is "starting to drift" which lures the Orion ship to slow dramatically down and drop "close to sublight" (indicating it was at warp). By the time "75,000km" is read off, the ship was still out there to be attacked (rather than zipping by at low warp) so we can deduce that the Orion was at sublight when she was hit.

We know based on the dialogue there was the attempt to evade with the warp engines and once Kirk was informed that they were coming in at Warp 15, that no longer became an option. So it's Nomad's warp bolts vs Enterprise evading with warp engines. We know on the 3rd hit the Enterprise definitely goes to impulse and Nomad has moved to 90,000km and holds position there. At this point it becomes a sublight vs sublight battle.

She was at Warp 5 when she set course for the RNZ and had made no indication of slowing down when she was hit with the first romulan blast. That qualifies for a Enterprise at warp attacked by Romulans who were pacing her at warp. By the time a rejuvenated Kirk made it to the bridge, it could be assumed that the Enterprise dropped to sublight, but it might not and she was still at Warp 5 with 10 romulans keeping pace around her.

So as far as TOS goes, not virtually every battle was a warp on sublight affair. We get a good mix of warp on warp, sublight on warp, warp on sublight and sublight on sublight battles.

15. Omega_GloryCommodore

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Yes Timo, with amazing precision. The Enterprise fired at the vicinity of the Romulan ship....they couldn't aim their phasers directly onto the BOP otherwise they would have locked her in and blasted the thing. Kind of like having your target walk into a bunch of bushes and you in turn fire your rifle or handgun just into the brush cause you cannot see the target and are just hoping for a hit. Firing into a volume of space.

The Enterprise reversed course at full emergency speed (warp 8 maybe?) and put millions of kilometers between herself and the intruder during that two minute run from the torpedo. Yes this is true, but there was some time involved after being hit with the torpedo and resuming the pursuit...they even made some repairs. And no phasers were fired across those millions of kilometers…they went back to where they were before the torpedo run.

Conflicting yes indeed. The warp 15 Nomad weapons do not jive with the 90,000 km range that is given. The episode contradicts itself...not a very good example to use for determining Trek tech.

Yes, I watched this again and the episode would tend to support that. And the torpedoes were already confirmed as being warp capable in an earlier episode.

The cloak is a gross electronic warfare effect plus a visible light eliminator. The Enterprise was not targeting the Romulan directly but but firing about where they thought it might be....otherwise they would have locked on and fired directly onto the ship...no need for anything that is proximity.

Yes, after reviewing the episode, I would agree that this was one of the rare warp to warp fights from TOS.

Yes sir, I was assuming that based on the idea that it took the Enterprise ten or twenty seconds to fire their torpedoes. The timeframe was 14 seconds or so. Oddly enough though, after reviewing the episode, I stand by my assumption.

1) Kirk orders Scott to engage the M/A power plant and provide full power to shields. Previous to this the Klink has been approaching at about 5,000 KM per second.
2) The Klink fires disruptors at an apparent stationary Enterprise (judging by the remastered special effects).
3) Kirk orders Warp 2 course 148 Mk3.
4) The Klink fires on what looks like a non-moving Enterprise judging by the remastered edition spec effects (are the remasters canon?).
5) The Enterprise then fires photons 14 seconds after the order for warp 2 is given.

It would appear that the raw, unrefined/unprocessed dilithium crystals caused a delay in the engagement of FTL movement….Scotty had already said on two occasions that the M/A reactor was having problems (both occurred within 30 seconds of the warp 2 order).

So, given all that, it would appear that:

1) The Enterprise was trying to engage warp speed when the Klink fired the last time and flew across her bow. The Enterprise’s engines finally got the ship moving and they pivoted behind the Klink and fired, but since the Klink was still at sublight, they would have had to back off to avoid overshooting the ship.

2) Or if you prefer, the Enterprise fired as it snapped around (meaning there was a definite delay in warp engagement) but before the ship could travel any real distance forward at Warp 2.

3) Or a third possibility is that the Enterprise went to warp with no delay or problems (despite Scotty’s dialogue) and the Klink also engaged FTL drive and the last weapons exchange (both Klink and Fed) occurred at warp speeds. If this is the case, one would wonder why refined and/or processed crystals are necessary if any old dilithium rock picked up on the back 40 would suffice for problem-free warp drive use.

So I still maintain this one was a Warp (attacker) to sublight (target) battle all the way...on both sides.

Like I said, this one is an unknown due to a lack of info on the Enterprise’s speed. Given that there was no dialogue about “warp drive failing” or something to that effect, my guess is that the E was at the same speed all along…sublight.

The Enterprise uses “evasive maneuvers” for most of the encounter. No mention of speed or what type of maneuvering (warp or impulse). The contradictions in this episode are the warp 15 energy bolts and the 90,000 km range. After the range was confirmed at least one more of these super duper energy bolts came screaming in….and took way too long for the range specified. That would mean either the range figure was off or the warp figure was off. I like to think that Spock meant “point one-five warp” as opposed to the warp 15 which simply does not work. And add to that the dialogue where its indicated that the shields of the Enterprise can withstand 360 photon torpedoes yet a few phasers in “Babel” is knocking shields down right and left??? Like I said, this episode is not good source for reliable information.

After reviewing this one, I would say you are correct on this.

You’re right….virtually was definitely the wrong term to use in my original post. A better generalization, if you will, is that warp to warp battles were extremely rare and actually only occurred twice.