Far out in space, our hero's Cool Ship
is on the run from the Big Bad
and hides out in a nebula/gas field/whatever and is obscured from their pursuer's sensors. It's a misty realm where you may not even be able to see your own hand in front of your face. This trope is about what seems to be a common theme
in nearly all Science Fiction
shows: a (nearly) human-scale cloud that is inexplicably stable in space. To add to the drama, the cloud may also contain dangerous weather, with lightning bolts and the like.
In reality, nebulae and other 'clouds' of interstellar matter are extremely sparse- they have only about one atom of matter per cubic centimeter of space. That's a trillion trillion
times less dense than the matter you could expect to find on Earth or in a star. The only reason these nebulae appear cloudlike to us is their immense size- they can be several light years across.
This trope has grown in popularity in direct proportion to the number and quality of images returned by the Hubble Space Telescope (and other observatories). It's quickly becoming a case of Reality Is Unrealistic
. See Analysis
for a comparison with real-life nebulae.
Compare Asteroid Thicket
. Trope name is a meta-example of SpaceX
. An example of space acting like air
- In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Zaphod claims that the inside of a nebula is the only place you'd see a completely blank viewport. Mind you, this is Zaphod talking, but the screen actually is blank until they adjust the view. Such perfect cover is very, very improbable: any random point selected within any random nebula is liable to have stars, if rather occluded stars, visible in some directions. The notion that the nebula has been providing this perfect cover to the stars Solianis and Rahm for five million years is even more improbable.
- In the Life The Universe And Everything, the Krikkit people have never seen stars and are entirely unaware of the night sky specifically because their planet lives inside a cloud of Hactar's debris. In this case, Trillian notes the incredible improbability of the entire situation and deduces that an outside intelligence is behind the whole thing.
- Mostly justified with the "Provcon-Fist", a proper dark nebula in the Perry Rhodan universe that the ex-Terran resistance movement of the 36th century uses to hide from the forces occupying the galaxy after Earth has already vacated its solar system for parts unknown to those left behind. It's a reasonably proper mostly-globular nebula actually large enough to hold several stars and their associated planets of its own, and what makes it basically impossible to navigate aren't so much its properties in normal spacetime as the fact that it presents an always ongoing "storm front" in hyperspace, through which any ships must necessarily travel and where with about two plot-relevant exceptions only "native" guides with the right Psychic Powers can find their way safely.
- Justified in the Murray Leinster story First Contact. The expedition to the Crab Nebula has to drop out of faster-than-light travel when they get the nebula itself. Leinster was aware that nebulae are extremely tenuous, but "A ship travelling at multiples of the speed of light does not want to run into even a merely hard vacuum; it needs true emptiness such as exists between the stars."
- Star Trek: Voyager:
- In the episode "Year of Hell", a crippled Voyager hides inside of a nebula so dense that it produces a visible fog inside the ship's corridors, on account of the ship being too damaged to otherwise keep the stuff out. (This implies that the nebula is denser than the atmosphere inside the ship.) Captain Janeway even orders the hull breaches sealed to avoid having an "indoor nebula."
- In the opening credits, Voyager passes though a cloud just a few kilometers thick, yet dense enough to see.
- In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Rocks and Shoals", Sisko's ship (which is being chased and has no warp drive) is not only able to find a dense and conveniently close nebula to hide in, but finds a Conveniently Close Planet inside the nebula.
- Babylon 5 mostly contented itself with pretty false-color nebulas as distant space backgrounds, but they succumbed fully to the trope in the climactic "Into the Fire" episode with a space battle zipping around the Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula, one of Hubble's most famous photos.
- Battlestar Galactica makes the nebulae-are-visible-close-up mistake. Especially with Lee flying through low-visibility conditions in the Ionian nebula. The cloud around New Caprica, which was likely held there because of the planet's gravity well, is more justified though.
- Played with in Flash. The backglass and playfield show the Earth as seen from space, surrounded by Bubbly Clouds and lightning bolts.
- In BIONICLE, when the planet Spherus Magna shattered, the smaller planets left behind formed a gigantic Bionicle emblem in space: three planets represented the three large dots, while the "swooshes" around them were formed by, as the writer once claimed, frozen clouds of Energized Protodermis dust, which kept its shape even after 100 000 years.
- In The Lydian Option, the Eye is an asteroid prison visible as an eye in the middle of a nebula shaped like a creature.
- In Escape Velocity, systems in the Serpens Nebula can have varying degrees of sensor-jamming interference that continually obscures the view screen.
- The sequels both have other nebulae, generally with a sensor-jamming interference. It should be noted that interference is the right word — it is represented as static of varying intensity covering the screen. Actual murk is a separate and somewhat rarer feature (although it does tend to show up in deep nebulae).
- FreeSpace has nebulae that look like really thick technicolor soup when you fly through them, obscuring things from your radar except at close range, and limiting sight range to under a kilometer. They also have frequent lightning storms which, when intense enough, wreak EMP-related havoc with your ship's HUD.
- In Star Wars: Empire at War, nebula fields are large clouds only a few ship-lengths wide, which disable special abilities when one sends a ship into them. Ion storms (which look almost the same, except with Space Lightning) do exactly the same thing, in addition to disabling a ships' Deflector Shields.
- Played with in Mass Effect; most nebulae are just there as pretty colours on the sector scale of the Galactic Map, and disappear once you zoom in to the star-system level. The Serpent Nebula around the Citadel is a regular pea-souper which obscures the massive station for a dramatic reveal as you fly in - and is therefore noted as being blatantly artificial, and the subject of much speculation as to why someone would go to so much effort to keep it that way. It's there to cut the Citadel off once the Reapers succeed in shutting down the Mass Relay network.
- The various Homeworld games have mission areas which take place inside nebulae, and they are often used story-wise as cover against detection. Areas inside nebulae often contain wisp-like strands of stellar gas that function as harvestable resources.
- Tachyon: The Fringe has the Twilight Region, which is a giant nebula that obscures most sensors. In fact, you need special sensors and radiation screens just to survive there. The "fog" is even seeping inside the Deep Fringe Array station. It also drives people insane after prolonged exposure, although the radiation may have something to do with it.
- Freelancer has numerous nebulas that the player can travel through. One system even has a light blue nebula enveloping the entire system, looking like a bright, sunny day on Earth. The game also had a number of other issues.
- Each region of Sirius, except for Liberty, is located near a specific type of nebula. Bretonia has the Barrier, a huge bluish-white cloud of ice crystals. Kusari has the Crow Nebula, the aforementioned blue nebula composed of ionized hydrogen, oxygen and helium. Rheinland has the Walker Nebula, which is made up of yellow clouds with mineral rich asteroid fields. The Edge World systems have the Edge Nebula, a mysterious green cloud full of alien organisms, artifacts and Nomads. And they're all drop dead gorgeous.
- Star Wars Rogue Squadron II has a stage where you have to fight off fighters in a nebula.
- Otherspace uses a gigantic red and gold nebula called the Rigor Strand as a sort of close-by frontier area where rogues and adventurers hang out, due to the fact that the nebula's sensor-thwarting abilities make it nearly impossible to map out.
- In Master of Orion 2, nebulae greatly reduce the cruising speed of ships passing through them unless the fleet is accompanied by a leader with the "Navigator" trait. They also disable shields that haven't been properly upgraded, when battling around planets in star systems located inside a nebula.
- Yuri uses a dense gas cloud around a neutron star to hide his ship at one point in Infinite Space. Various nebulae can be seen as "Celestial Phenomena" as you explore the galaxies.
- Nebulae show up in the X-Universe games. They're all extremely dense (with a few exceptions), sometimes limiting visibility down to 10 kilometers. In the Albion Prelude expansion pack for Terran Conflict, the nebulae's visibility obstructing effect is removed, making them atmospheric effects that don't affect visibility. The Xtended Terran Conflict mod likewise mostly removes obstructive nebulae, but one sector, Tortuga, has such thick yellow clouds that it's often impossible to see the entirety of a capital ship - visibility it something like 1.5 kilometers (in a game where most capital ships are 2 or more kilometers long). Better keep a close eye on your gravidar.
- Matter Splatter Galaxy from Super Mario Galaxy.
- In FTL: Faster Than Light, purple nebula clouds a la Wrath of Khan cover certain jump points. They disable sensors, and certain ones have plasma storms that halve reactor output for those within. Slugs make their home in nebula sectors.
- Wing Commander III featured one mission inside a nebula that obscured vision, but otherwise didn't really have any effect on the mission.
- Star Wars: The Clone Wars portrayal of nebulas fits perfectly: you literally only can see objects a few meters away from your viewport.
- WALL•E Has the ship Axiom parked next to a nebula which initially hides its presence as the Earth-ship approaches.
- Megas XLR has an episode where a bunch of totally-not-the-Transformers are chasing after Coop into a Space Cloud. He proceeds to turn it into a Mook Horrorshow.