Search
Mobile Site Caption Comp Monthly Poll Sudden Death Book Reviews Game Reviews Colour Key Statistics Cookie Usage
Federation Ships Other Ships A-K Fleets Weaponry Species Standard People Timelines Calculators Photo Galleries Temporal
Space Stations Other Ships L-Z Design Lineage Size Charts Battles Alternate People Science / Tech Styling Maps / Politics Temporal Ships
Articles Reviews Lists Recreation Search Site Guide What's New eMail Author Links / Awards Shops Forum

Articles
Abrams
Speed!

Antimatter
Borg
History
Constitution
Class Starships
Dangling
Threads
Enterprise
Ramblings
Eugenics
War Dates
Here be
Remans?
Klingon
Battlecruiser
Klingon
Bird of Prey
Live fast...
Write Badly
Magazine
Capacity

Maps

Money

Monoculture
Nemesis
Script
NX Class
Phase Cannon

Phasers
Random
Musings
Religion
in Trek
Romulan
Warp Drive
Scaling
Issues
Size of the
Federation
Sovereign
Changes

Stardates
Technology
Levels
The
Defiant
The
Holodeck
The Size of
Starfleet
Torpedo
Yields
Transwarp
Theories
Trek XI
Issues
Tri-cobalt
device
Trills
/ Dax
Warp Speed
Anomalies
Total
Output
Galaxy Class
Total Output
Intrepid Class
Total Output
Weapon
Power
D'Deridex Class
Weapon Power
Galaxy Class
Weapon Output
Genesis
Weapon Power
Husnock Warship
Weapon Power
TOS Type 2 Phaser
Weapon Power
Trilithium Torpedoes
Weapon Power
Shield
Strength
Galaxy Class
Shield Strength

Miscellaneous

Materials

Warp Speed Anomalies

Introduction

One of the single most befuddled issues in the whole history of Star Trek is that of the speed of the ships. The original series gave speeds in 'warp factors'; the warp scale was analogous to the Mach scale in use for the then relatively new supersonic aircraft. The idea was a brilliant one, for by using invented units it clouded the actual speed of the ships and thus helped to avoid contradictions with real life speeds and distances.

Although the original series never stated it onscreen, there was an official version of how fast the warp factors in TOS were supposed to be. It is described in 'The Making of Star Trek', a book which describes many aspects of the show's production. According to the book, in the TOS era the speed was equal to the warp factor cubed times light speed. So for example warp 2 was 2 x 2 x 2 = 8 times lightspeed, while warp 4 was 4 x 4 x 4 = 64 times lightspeed. On this scale the Enterprise's top cruise speed of warp 6 equates to 216 times lightspeed, while the dangerous speed of warp 8 was 512 times lightspeed.

In TNG, the scale became a lot more complex. Instead of warp factor cubed, the speed of a ship is given by warp factor to the power of ten over three. So now warp 6 is equal to 6^(10/3) = 392.5 times lightspeed and warp 8 is 8^(10/3) = 1,024 times lightspeed. However, this only works up to warp 9. Beyond that the power which the warp factor is raised by climbs slowly, then more rapidly. The result is that by warp 9.9 the speed is 3,053 times lightspeed, at warp 9.9999 the speed is about 200,000 times lightspeed, and at warp 10 the speed becomes infinite. This scale remained in use throughout TNG, DS9 and Voyager. The latest series, Enterprise, has apparently reverted back to the TOS scale since it is set before Kirk's time.

Unfortunately, the official scales have been violated many times in canonical statements. I will list the more glaring examples below :

The Original Series

Our first example comes from the very first episode ever made, 'The Cage'. This was never broadcast in the original series run, but much of the footage was used in the later double episode 'The Menagerie'. The plot involves Captain Pike in command of the Enterprise; the ship receives a distress signal sent years before by a civilian vessel. On investigating Pike finds that the single survivor has been held captive by aliens who posses powerful telepathic abilities. To lull the crew into a false sense of security, the aliens project a mental image of a camp of Human survivors on the planet. Once captured by the aliens, Captain Pike introduces himself thus :

Pike :
'My name is Christopher Pike. Commander of the space vehicle Enterprise from a stellar group at the other end of this galaxy.'

Our galaxy is some 80,000 light years across, so travelling even a fraction of its diameter should take centuries at any warp factor the Enterprise is capable of. One could interpret 'at the other end of the galaxy' as meaning at the other end of the thickness of the galaxy rather than the length, but even this does not solve the problem; the galaxy is a couple of thousand light years thick in the region of Earth, so at the very least this establishes travel over distances of a thousand light years or so - and crossing this would still be a trip of years according to the official TOS scale. In the later episode 'The Cage', Spock seizes control of the Enterprise at Starbase 11 and takes it to Talos. The time for the trip is unclear, but is certainly no more than two days because Spock's court martial occupies the bulk of the journey. However, one could say that Pike's statement is mere hyperbole.

In the episode 'Bread and Circuses', the Enterprise comes across a world which paralleled Earth's early history, but in which the Roman Empire never fell. On approaching the planet for the first time, Chekov is reporting on their time of arrival :

Kirk :
'Mister Spock, assuming that the wreckage drifted at the same speed and direction for the past six years...'
Spock :
'It would have come from planet four, star system eight nine two, directly ahead.'
Chekov :
'Only one sixteenth parsec away captain, we should be there in seconds.'

It actually takes the ship less than thirty seconds to reach the planet; there are several cuts in this scene, but there is dialogue over them which makes it clear that there are no significant cuts in the timeline of the events. A parsec is about 3.25 light years, so covering one sixteenth of a parsec in thirty seconds equates to about 215,000 times lightspeed! On the official scale for TOS this would be almost warp factor 60, which is many times the Enterprise's stated top warp factor. It's also about equal to the Encyclopedias stated speed for subspace radio, which is TNG Warp Factor 9.9999.

In the episode 'That Which Survives', Kirk leads a landing party down to investigate an unusual planet. While he is occupied, a mysterious force knocks the Enterprise exactly 990.7 light years away from the planet. Spock, in command in Kirk's absence, orders the ship to return in order to rescue Kirk. The time to return is unclear, though it seems to span no more than 24 hours or so judging by events on the planet. Dialogue between Kirk and the landing party indicates that they have no food or water with them and are unable to find any on the planet. The return trip can therefore take no more than a few days at the very most most. Assuming it took 24 hours, this would equate to a speed of 361,853 x lightspeed; according to the official scale covering this distance should take nearly two years even at the top speed of Warp factor 8.

Another problem crops up in 'The Squire of Gothos'. It is established a couple of times in this episode that the Enterprise is 900 light years from Earth. At the normal cruise of Warp 6 it would take over four years - most of the Enterprise's five year mission time - just to get there from Earth, without any stops. Plus the same time to get back, of course.

In 'Arena', a species known as the Gorn attack a Federation outpost and attempt to destroy the Enterprise. After a brief surface battle Kirk leaves a medical contingent on the surface and beams up to pursue the alien vessel, intent on punishing the aliens. The chase is interrupted by the advanced alien Metrones, who force Kirk and the Gorn captain to fight to the death in single combat. Kirk is victorious, but refuses to kill the Gorn because it claims that the outpost had been placed in Gorn space and so it was the Federation that was in the wrong. The Metrones agree to allow both sides try to negotiate a peace and let them go. However, for some reason they then throw the Enterprise some a vast distance through space. Looking at his instruments, Sulu reports :

Sulu :
'Captain, it's impossible but... there's Sirius over there when it should be over there! And Canopus, and Arcanus. We're... all of a sudden we're clear across the galaxy. Five hundred parsecs from where we are. I mean where. I mean-'

As mentioned earlier a parsec is a distance equal to about 3.25 light years, so 500 parsecs is 1,625 light years. Even at the maximum warp factor 8, covering this distance would take more than three years according to the official scale. Yet Kirk orders the ship to return at warp 2 - at which the trip should take over two hundred years! Yet everybody is acting like all they have to do is wander back to Cestus III and pick up their medical teams.

This case hints at a more general problem with the TOS scale. During the series it became clear that warp factors of 4 or more were actually quite rarely used by Federation craft. For instance in 'Friday's Child' it is stated that a freighter can manage a maximum of warp 2, or only 8 times lightspeed. Kirk frequently orders the Enterprise to proceed at Warp 1 or 2, as above; with an average distance between stars of about four or five light years, this would give travel times even between adjacent systems of between six months and five years! Yet we never have any indication that these sorts of journey times are common even for civilian transports, and they certainly are not typical for starships.

Star Trek V

One of the most notorious examples of this kind in all of Star Trek comes in this movie. The Enterprise is sent to solve a hostage situation on the planet Nimbus III, but on arrival the terrorists, led by Spock's half brother Sybok, overpower the Federation officers and take control of the Starship. Sybok has staged the whole incident with this end in mind, and intends to use the ship to find the mythical planet of Sha'ka'ree. The following dialogue concerns the trip :

Chekov :
'Following new course, warp seven.'
Sulu :
'Estimating destination in six point seven hours, present speed.'

Sybok then makes an announcement to the ship, which Kirk and company see from the Brig. Sybok makes a long winded speech about how many cultures have a local version of Eden, finishing with :

Sybok :
'Our destination is the planet Sha'ka'ree, which lies beyond the great barrier at the centre of the galaxy.'
Kirk :
'The centre of the galaxy!'
Spock :
'Where Sha'ka'ree is fabled to exist.'
Kirk :
'The centre of the galaxy can't be reached. No ship has ever gone into the great barrier, no probe has ever returned.'

It's made abundantly clear that the ship's destination is the centre of the galaxy, and that they will reach this destination in a matter of hours at warp seven.

So during the course of the movie the Enterprise proceeds from Earth to Nimbus III in an unknown time, and then from Nimbus III to the centre of the galaxy in nearly seven hours at warp seven.

In 'First Contact', Picard establishes that the TNG Federation is 8,000 light years across. Even if it was this large at the time of Star Trek V, then the distance between Earth and Nimbus III could be no more than 8,000 light years. Since our planet is located approximately 25,000 light years from the centre of the galaxy, it follows that Nimbus III must be at least 17,000 light years from the centre. So the second leg of the trip, which lasted six hours forty two minutes, took place at a speed of at least 2,537 light years per hour - over twenty million times the speed of light, or TOS warp factor 281!

The Next Generation

The Next Generation had relatively few blatant contradictions to the official warp speed scale, but some did occur. The most notable came in 'The Chase'. In this episode Professor Galen, who taught Picard archaeology years before, comes to the Enterprise-D to offer the Captain the chance to participate in a major new discovery he is about to make. He describes the journey he intends to make as follows :

Galen :
'The Vulcan ship will take us as far as DS4, an Al-Leyan transport is scheduled to arrive at the station three weeks later and they'll take us to Caere and then we'll use the shuttle to get us to Idri VIII, our first stop.'

I have marked the course he intends to follow in red on the image below. The upper right point marks Deep Space Four, the upper left point is Caere, and the lower left point is the planet Idri VIII which Galen describes as their 'first stop'. It's worth noting in passing that the Encyclopedia calls the planet 'Indri VIII', yet Galen clearly pronounces it 'Idri VIII'.

Assuming a 40,000 light year radius for the galaxy, Galen is planning to travel at least 30,000 light years to reach Indri VIII! Galen says that if he had a Starship and full diplomatic access he could accomplish his mission in a matter of weeks. When Galen is killed Picard heads off to Indri VIII to complete his mentor's work. He orders the ship to head there at TNG warp factor 7, which should be a speed of 656 times lightspeed. At this speed it would take about forty five years to follow Galen's course, and several decades even to go in a straight line. Yet the ship completes the journey and several subsequent trips within the space of the episode. No specific time span is given for the episode, the Stardate of 'The Chase' is 46731.5 and that of the next episode ('Frame of Mind') is 46778.1, a gap of only 46.6 stardate units, or 17 days. In addition, when Troi tries to stress to Picard the importance of the conference they were heading to before diverting to Indri VII, Picard says he is quite prepared to inconvenience some squabbling delegates for 'a few days'.


Other TNG episodes also have problems. For example in 'Bloodlines', Riker states that it will take the Enterprise-D 20 minutes to travel 300 billion kilometres at Warp 9. This equates to a speed of 833 x c, which is substantially lower than the 1,516 x c official figure for warp 9.

The episode 'Where Silence has Lease', features the E-D being trapped in a mysterious 'hole in space'. An opening leading back to normal space appears 1.3 parsecs (about 4.2 light years) away, and Picard orders the ship to head for it at Warp factor 2. At this speed it would take five months to reach the hole, which seems like a very leisurely escape manoeuvre.

In 'Clues', the Enterprise-D encounters what initially appears to be a wormhole which throws them a distance of 0.54 Parsecs, Riker comments that this is 'nearly a day's travel in thirty seconds'. At warp six, the ships normal cruising speed, the Enterprise would need 1.6 days to cover the distance. An alternative explanation for this one is that Riker worked the time out for Warp 7, which comes to slightly under 24 hours, but this seems to be an odd choice as it is neither the ships normal or maximum cruise speed. However I would class this one as a possible error only.

Another questionable example comes in the early episode '11001001'. In this episode the Enterprise-D is in a Starbase for refit when the antimatter containment systems begin to slowly fail. With only minutes to go until the ship is destroyed, Data announces that he has set the computer to take the ship out away from the nearby inhabited star systems. This could be taken to indicate that he expected the ship to be able to cover a distance of at least several light years in the time remaining, although no specific distances or speed are given.

Voyager

Voyager initially appears to offer the best possible proof that the official scale is indeed accurate. The whole premise of the show is that the Federation ship has been thrown some seventy thousand light years from Earth, and that it was expected to take about seventy years to reach home. Thus Voyager was expected to average about one thousand times lightspeed, which is warp 8 on the TNG scale.

Unfortunately, Voyager many times violated the scale. Most notably, in the episode 'The 37's' the ship discovers that a number of Humans were kidnapped from Earth in 1937 by an alien species. Some of these were left in stasis on a planet in the Delta Quadrant, and the Voyager crew revive several of these. One of them is no less than Amelia Earhart, who is naturally intrigued by the technology of Voyager. The following dialogue takes place on a tour of the bridge :

Earhart :
'How fast?'
Paris :
'Warp nine point nine. In your terms, that about four billion miles a second.'

Four billion miles per second translates to over 21,450 times lightspeed. However, according to the Encyclopedia warp speed chart, Warp 9.9 on the TNG scale is 3,053 times lightspeed. So Paris is apparently off by a factor of seven.

In 'Unimatrix Zero', the ship receives a distress call from a source two light years away. Later, Janeway reports that it took them 2 hours to get there. That's about 8,766 times the speed of light - some 60% faster than the ships designed top maximum speed of warp factor 9.975, which is about 5,500 times lightspeed on the official scale. And bear in mind that Voyager isn't often depicted as being able to reach even her designed maximum sustainable warp factor of 9.975, let alone going much faster.

Another interesting facet of Voyager is the ship's course. This is seen in 'Year of Hell, Part I' when the astrometrics lab comes on line. Voyager's point of origin is roughly at the rim of the galaxy, almost directly opposite the Earth's location. From here it is moving along a path which curves significantly to one side, skirting the galactic core. This course is an odd choice, as it adds several thousand light years to the trip compared to a straight line course. Bringing the astrometrics sensors on line was said to have refined the course enough to slash five years from Voyager's journey. Additional navigational information has subsequently saved the crew even more time.

Deep Space Nine

Deep Space 9 tended not to quote distances, speeds and travel times very often so there are relatively few specific problems in this area. But the show did occasionally fall down because it had a tendency in later years to violate its premise of a space station out beyond the frontier of the Federation.

According to Picard in 'Star Trek : First Contact', the Federation is spread across eight thousand light years. Since Humans were one of the founder members, Earth should probably lie more or less towards the centre of Federation territory. So Deep Space Nine should lie anything up to four thousand light years from Earth. At the standard warp 6 cruise this would be a trip of over ten years. Even at warp 9.9, which most Trek ships cannot reach at all let alone hold for any length of time, crossing four thousand light years would take sixteen months. Yet in the crew of DS9 regularly visit Earth in episodes such as 'Homefront' or 'Past Tense'. It's not often clear just how long these jaunts take, but it's a matter of days at the most; certainly not years.

We could assume that Federation expansion has not been very uniform, leading to Earth lying towards the edge rather than the centre, but given the implied travel times we're looking at distances of a few tens of light years at most here. It's entirely possible that the core of the Federation is a small cluster of worlds, with outlying regions thousands of light years away, but if that is so then all the early talk of being 'out on the frontier' rather goes by the wayside.

Enterprise

The newest incarnation of Star Trek is already shaping up to be by far the most inconsistent in terms of warp speeds and distances. The pilot episode 'Broken Bow' has several statements concerning the ship's speed :

Archer :
'God, she's beautiful.'
Trip :
'And fast. Warp 4.5 next Thursday.'
Archer :
'Neptune and back in six minutes.'

The distance between Earth and Neptune varies between about 4,350 million kilometres and 4,650 million kilometres, so going there and back in six minutes would equate to a speed of between about 81 and 86 times lightspeed. Warp 4.5 on the TOS scale is 91.125 times lightspeed, on the TNG scale it is 150 times lightspeed.

In a later scene the ship is actually in flight and we get the following dialogue...

Archer :
'Bring us to four-four, Lieutenant.'
Hoshi :
'There! What do you call that?'
Reed :
'The deflector's sequencing. It's perfectly normal.'
T'Pol :
'Perhaps you'd like to go to your quarters and lie down?'
Hoshi :
'Ponfo mirann.'
T'Pol :
'I was instructed to speak English during this voyage. I'd appreciate it if you'd respect that.'
Archer :
'It's easy to get a little jumpy when you're travelling at thirty million kilometres a second. Should be old-hat in
a week's time.'

Thirty million kilometres per second is about one hundred times the speed of light. Both quotes are strong evidence that the TOS scale is in use on Enterprise, which makes sense since it is set before Kirk's time.

The first problem regards Kronos, the Klingon home world. When Archer and Trip are discussing the trip to take Klaang back to his people, the following dialogue occurs :

Trip :
'Since when do we have Vulcan Science Officers?'
Archer :
'Since we need Vulcan starcharts to get to Kronos.'
Trip :
'So we get a few maps... and they get to put a spy on our ship?'
Archer :
'Admiral Forrest says we should think of her more as a 'chaperone.''
Trip :
'I thought the whole point of this was to get away from the Vulcans.'
Archer :
'Four days there, four days back... then she's gone. In the meantime, we're to extend her every courtesy.'

So the ship can do approximately one hundred times the speed of light, and expects to reach Kronos in four days. That puts Kronos slightly over one light year from Earth. Yet the nearest star to Earth is about 4.2 light years away. And the fact that Enterprise diverts to Rigel on the way to Kronos indicates that the Klingon home world is certainly not the closest star to Earth in the Trek universe, so the distance is likely to be considerably greater than 4 light years.

In 'Civilisation', Archer notes that Enterprise has come 78 light years to reach the Akaali home world. It has been 106 days since Broken Bow, so the ship has averaged 269 x c - more than double the speeds given in Broken Bow.

In 'Fortunate Son' there is some discussion of the new warp technology becoming available to humans. It is said that by changing to a warp 3 engine, a ship previously capable of warp 1.8 would cut a 5 year journey to 6 months. Whilst no distances are given and so no speed calculations are possible, this does allow us to say that warp 3 is 10 times faster than warp 1.8. Yet according to the official scale, warp 3 should be only 4.63 times faster.

In 'Detained', Enterprise travels a distance of 5.2 light years to reach the prison Archer is being kept in. At one point a Suliban notes that Archer has only been there for 3 days, so the ship must have averaged a speed of at least 630 x c - more than six times as fast as it was said to be capable of in Broken Bow.

In 'Horizon', Enterprise makes a 30 light year detour to investigate a planet which is undergoing extreme tectonic activity. Everybody acts like this is a minor detour - but at the Broken Bow speeds, this would be a trip of 3 or 4 months!

In 'Regeneration', the Borgified transport travels away from Earth at warp 3.9. Enterprise is about 100 light years away at this point; even if it travelled back towards Earth at warp 5, it would take the two at least six months before they could intercept according to the official scale. Since we are dealing with the Borg we might argue that the transport did a small transwarp hop somewhere along the line, but this doesn't really work because Archer expected to be able to intercept the ship and never once questioned the timeframe in which he actually did so.

Conclusion

To summarise, then :

Episode What happened Actual Speed Official Speed
TOS : The Cage Pike says he is from "the other end of the galaxy" Not stated, but dialogue implies speeds on the order of 100,000 x c Enterprise maximum speed is 512 x c even over short periods.
TOS : Bread and Circuses Enterprise covers 1/16th Parsec in approximately 30 seconds 215,000 x c Enterprise maximum speed is 512 x c even over short periods.
TOS : That Which Survives Enterprise covers 990.7 light years in approximately 24 hours. 360,000 x c Enterprise maximum speed is 512 x c even over short periods.
TOS : The Squire of Gothos Enterprise is 900 light years from Earth. Implied, speeds inexcess of 10,000 x c. Enterprise maximum speed is 512 x c even over short periods.
TOS : Arena Enterprise chooses to cross 500 parsecs (1,600 light years) at warp 2. Uncertain, but implied speed in excess of 80,000 x c. Warp 2 is 8 x c on the official scale.
Star Trek V : The Final Frontier Enterprise goes from Nimbus III to the centre of the galaxy in 6.7 hours at warp 7. The distance is between 17,000 and 33,000 light years. Between 22,242,000 and 43,175,820 x c. Enterprise maximum speed is 512 x c even over short periods.
TNG : The Chase The Enterprise covers a distance of between 20,000 and 30,000 light years in "a few days". Approximately 1,826,000 - 2,740,000 x c This trip should have taken the E-D at least 50 years according to the official scale.
TNG : Bloodlines A distance of 300 billion kilometres is said to equate to 20 minutes travel time. 833 x c The trip would take 42 minutes at warp 6. However, the time given is roughly correct for warp 7.
TNG : Where Silence Has Lease The Enterprise attempts to cross a distance of 1.3 parsecs at warp 2. Uncertain, but a speed of around 200,000 x c is implied. On the official TNG scale, it would take five months to reach the hole at warp 2.
TNG : Clues A distance of 0.54 Parsecs is described as "nearly a day's travel". In excess of 641 x c At warp six this trip should take 1.6 days. However, the time is exactly right for warp 7.
TNG : 11001001 The ship is programmed to travel away from nearby inhabited star systems, with only minutes to go before it self destructs. Uncertain, but a speed in excess of 100,000 x c is implied. At the Enterprise-D's maximum speed of warp 9.6, covering even 1 light year should take several hours.
VOY : The 37s Paris describes warp 9.9 as 4 billion miles per second. 21,458 x c. According to the official scale warp 9.9 is 3,053 x c.
VOY : Unimatrix Zero Voyager crosses 2 light years in 2 hours. 8,766 x c There is no solid official figure for Voyager's maximum speed of warp 9.975, but it is approximately 5,500 x c.
ENT : Broken Bow Archer notes that Enterprise could travel to Neptune and back in 6 minutes.times lightspeed at warp 4.5. 81 - 86 x c. On the official TOS scale, warp 4.5 is 91.125 x c.
ENT : Broken Bow Warp 4.4 is described as being 30 million kilometres a second. 100 x c. On the official TOS scale, warp 4.4 is 85.184 x c.
ENT : Broken Bow Enterprise plans to travel to Kronos in 4 days. Uncertain, but implied speeds of 1,000 x c or more. At the speeds given thus far, reaching even the closest star to Earth would take around 16 days.
ENT : Civilisation Archer says that Enterprise has crossed 78 light years, in a time span of 106 days since the ship began its mission. 269 x c. Enterprise should take almost a year to cover this distance according to the figures Archer gives in Broken Bow.
ENT : Fortunate Son It is stated that an increase from warp 1.8 to warp 3 would cut a 5 year journey to 6 months. Speed unknown, but would mean that warp 3 was 10 times faster than warp 1.8. According to the official scale, warp 3 is only 4.63 times faster.
ENT : Detained The ship covers 5.2 light years in 3 days. 633.1 x c. At the speeds given in Broken Bow, it should take at least 19 days to cover this distance.
ENT : Horizon Enterprise makes a 30 light year detour to investigate a planet. Uncertain, but implied 1,500 x c or so. At the speeds given in Broken Bow, this would be a trip of 3 or 4 months.

Some of the above anomalies can be dismissed as rounding errors or simple miscalculations on the part of the characters, but it is clear that this can only be part of the solution. It's simply impossible to explain episodes like 'Arena' or 'Star Trek V' as such mistakes. Yet we can't just cast aside the idea that ships are limited to hundreds of times lightspeed in the normal course of events, because if ships could regularly achieve very high speeds then the whole premise of Voyager would not make sense.

The only way to reconcile this contradiction is to assume that ships are normally bound by the official warp scales, but that they can achieve higher speeds on specific special occasions. So under what circumstances might these extraordinary speeds be achieved?

We have seen in 'That Which Survives' that the Enterprise could reach warp factor 14.1 under extreme duress. This was considered so dangerous that Scotty was saying that the ship was in imminent danger of being destroyed. So it seems improbable that warp factors of 40 or more could be achieved for even one minute in 'Bread and Circuses', nor does it seem credible that Kirk would risk such a dangerous warp factor just to shave off half an hour or so on a routine investigation. And even if we took this unlikely possibility as fact, this would still not explain the fact that high speeds were achieved in 'Star Trek V' without exceeding warp factor 7. So we can safely rule out the idea that starships achieve high speeds just by pushing their engines especially hard. It must be the case that the speed of a given warp factor is not fixed, as the official scales imply, but is in fact variable.

It's possible that the speed of a given warp factor changes over time, so that warp 5 is 125 times lightspeed in the morning and 500 times lightspeed in the afternoon. Or it's possible that it changes with location, so that warp 5 is 125 times lightspeed at the rim of the galaxy and 500 times lightspeed at the core. I tend to favour the latter. We've already seen that there are 'underspace corridors' and 'transwarp conduits'; I would suggest that there are regions of space in which the speed of a given warp factor is much higher or lower than normal. Amongst fans, these areas tend to be called 'warp highways' for obvious reasons.

Since the official scale tends to hold for most of the time, then most areas of space would tend to be 'normal'. In these areas a ship would follow the official scale precisely. Then there would be areas in which warp drive does not perform so well as normal, as seems to be the case in 'Bloodlines'. This area would need to be fairly widespread, or the Enterprise could have simply have skipped off to one side for a few seconds and then proceeded at normal speed.

Finally, we would have areas of space which were far faster than normal the warp highways. Some may give a ship a relatively modest boost, increasing the speed by just a few percentage points or so. Some may boost the speed by a factor of two or three. And then there are those which give ships a real kick; to explain Star Trek V such a highway would extend from Nimbus III to the galactic core and would have boosted the speed of the Enterprise by a factor of about sixty five thousand.

This theory also helps to explain the Voyager course anomaly. We could assume that ship has not chosen a straight line path because it was able to detect some areas skirting the core where warp speeds were better than average. The astrometrics sensors allowed these regions to be better charted, so allowing a faster path to be chosen.

In general, highways would have to be relatively long term features. For example, there would need to be a highway extending along the course Professor Galen chose in 'The Chase'. The planet was first identified in 2340, so this highway has been in existence for at least twenty nine years. The highway extending to the galactic core must also have existed for some time, since Kirk's statements regarding the Great Barrier imply that it has gained a considerable reputation for being impassable. Yet this highway must be gone by the 2370s, or else Voyager would only need to reach the core to be ensured of a fast ride the rest of the way home.

Warp highways could also be one of the reasons why Earth is so influential. Each highway would be a natural route for ships to follow, and any system that happened to lie at a point where several highways crossed would be a natural stopping off point and fltrading centre. That Earth lies on at least one highway is implied by the fact that Enterprise can reach the Klingon home world in only four days, as stated in the pilot episode of Enterprise.

It is not my intention to claim that the writers of Star Trek have warp highways in mind when writing the show. Far from it. In essence, the warp highways theory is just a way of making the speed of any given warp factor pretty much arbitrary. As such it is a pretty elegant theory because it allows us to excuse any mistake the writers make, no matter how blatant!


Yellow text = Canon source Green text = Backstage source Cyan text = Novel White text = DITL speculation


Copyright Graham Kennedy Page views : 1,751 Last updated : 1 Jan 1970