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Swirly Energy Thingy

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"Is it a wibbley thing or a swirly thing, sir?"
Kryten, Red Dwarf

The Swirly Energy Thingy is what it sounds like: a spinning, shining vortex of... something. Like a whirlpool, it's easy to get pulled in if you get too close.

Enter it and something weird will happen. Often it's a boring old wormhole — it'll drop you somewhere else in the universe... whether you wanted to go there or not — but like any good Negative Space Wedgie, it can also trigger a wide range of weird phenomena. The most common variant is that it'll send you through time as well.

Usually a natural phenomenon in space, but they've been known to be artificial, and if they are they might (rarely) appear inside an atmosphere as well.

Most Black Holes will take this form in media, never mind that you shouldn't be able to see a black hole under most circumstances... well, usually. Some black holes have what is called an accretion disc that looks quite a bit like such a thing — it's matter just outside the event horizon that manages to go into orbit around it before falling in, because inertia balances out the massive gravity experienced so close to the event horizon. Nonetheless, the black hole will be a glowing swirl of light even if there's no apparent source of the matter in the first place.


Despite the similar images the names might conjure, this is unrelated to Timey-Wimey Ball (although a Swirly Energy Thingy might very well have Timey Wimey effects). The trope name is an example of Buffy Speak.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann has "Spiral Energy", the force of will of mankind made manifest, often depicted as and accompanied by swirling wind and glowing spirals. Power taking the form of a spiral swirl is used as something of a metaphor for mankind's development and determination to advance as well as a visual cue that awesome crap is about to go down.
  • Uzumaki - Won't you come into the spiral???

    Comic Books 
  • The Speed Force of The Flash fame, an energy field from which all speedsters draw their power, is described as one of these.
  • The pre-Crisis Superman story "Superman's Secret Afterlife!" had the hero being caught by a Life Energy sucking creature called a Helix in space, that looked like a miniature galaxy. It trapped him in an illusion of his possible future life (with a little help from the Phantom Zone Villains). Superman destroys it, appropriately enough, by spinning it towards a nova.

  • The Black Hole is one of several films that features a funnel-shaped, rather than flat, accretion disc around the event horizon.
  • Fantastic Four (2005) had this trope to a T, complete with surprise special effect of re-rolling your stats/DNA for you.
  • Much of Interstellar takes place in a system around a black hole that has 25 times the mass of the supermassive black hole in the center of our galaxy, or 100,000,000 times the mass of our sun. And it is spinning at 99.8% the speed of light. It is also surrounded by an accretion disk of gas and rocks that form a huge ring of glowing hot material, but because of how the incredible gravity bends light it looks like it has two rings at a 90 degree angle. It's probably the weirdest looking portrayal of a black hole ever, while also being the most scientifically accurate.
  • The Star Trek (2009) film shows the evil Romulan mining ship traveling through time by way of a giant swirling lightning storm in space. Bonus swirling vortex when the planet Vulcan is absorbed by a black hole bomb in the planet core.
  • Dreamscape uses Swirly Energy Thingy imagery to illustrate Alex's journey into people's dreams. In this case, the colors of Swirl and the accompanying auditory effects foreshadow the nature of the dream: yelling and whites for a falling nightmare, fleshy pinks and moans for sexual anxiety, darkness and lightning for a boy's night terrors, and fire and explosions for World War III dread.


    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5 used these in jump gates and jump points.
  • Doctor Who is another big fan of this trope. Most notably, the Time Vortex through which the TARDIS travels, first featured in the 70s title sequence, and reborn in the new series for both the titles and occasionally within the series itself.
  • The first two seasons of Eureka have this calling it the "Artifact" which may or may not have been the thing that caused both the Big Bang AND intelligence...
  • A major plot point right through Farscape. In fact, one of these kicked off the plot in the first place. Farscape wormholes usually just send you through space, but can do time as well. John has the distinction of being pretty much the only person who can predict when and where they will open, which paints a huge target on his back.
  • As the quotes page suggests, Red Dwarf encounters quite a few of these. Among them are a "time hole" (which goes into a dimension where time runs backward), a "white hole" (which spits out everything that a black hole pulls in), and a dimensional portal.
    • Cat tends to call them out directly by trope name.
    Cat: I hate to get all technical but, all hands on deck! Swirly thing alert!!!
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, in particular, used this visual effect for the wormhole that the primary plot centered around.
  • Star Trek: Voyager.
  • Blake's 7. In "Breakdown", the Liberator enters a Forbidden Zone against the advice of their Master Computer, which shuts down all automatic systems in a futile attempt to stop them. They discover why it's forbidden on encountering a swirling 'gravitational vortex' (not a black hole as they encounter one of those in another episode). Fortunately Ace Pilot Jenna is able to manually pilot the Liberator right through the middle.
  • Stargate SG-1's Stargate normally looks like a rippling pool, but when subjected to the effects of a black hole on the far side, it became a swirling funnel-shaped whirlpool that sucked things in.

  • The Molecular Mixmaster from Dr. Dude.
  • The Spirals in The Twilight Zone. Aside from being decorative, they can also temporarily trap a pinball, which is helpful for making some of the shots.


    Tabletop Games 
  • In Warhammer 40,000: Warp rifts, areas where the Warp and realspace overlap (or, equivalently, where Hell itself has spewed into reality), tend to take the form of spiraling whirlpools of luridly colored... something.
    • The most notable is the Eye of Terror, and it's roughly the size of a small spiral galaxy. Although the Eye of Terror is the largest and most notorious, there are others: the Maelstrom, the Maw, the Storm of the Emperor's Wrath, the Screaming Vortex... you get the idea.
    • In the Fifth Edition rulebook's description of the Orks, the book gives a (not-to-scale) map of a WAAAAGH! from beginning to end. One of the topographical anomalies on the map is literally titled "Da Big Swirly Fing".
  • In Warhammer Fantasy, the chaos Mutalith Vortex Beast carries a smaller one around on its back. As you'd expect from something that spends so long close to one, the Vortex Beast looks very, very weird.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! features the Mystical Space Typhoon card, which incorporates lightning within the vortex as well.

    Video Games 
  • Dawn of War 2 and its expansions actually showed Imperial ships jumping in and out of the warp, whose jump rifts look like the ships were being pulled in by giant lightning tentacles. Which, knowing the nature of the Warp, is entirely possible to be what was actually happening.
  • In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, a certain quest leads the player to encounter a Wretched Abyss, a swirling, purple-ringed hole in space. This turns out to be a manifestation of Hermaeus Mora, the Daedric Prince of the Unknown. Any daedric summon uses a portal that manifests as a Swirly Energy Thingy. Also, the portal to Sovngarde located in Skuldafn is also a Swirly Energy Thingy, as is the portal to the Soul Cairn, the realm where all souls trapped in Black Soul Gems go after being used up, in Dawnguard.
  • The wormholes in EVE Online are the inverse of this, being understated translucent spheres in space that go 'blib' when you go through them. Irritatingly, this is quite possibly what a real wormhole might look like, i.e., boring.
  • The Jump Holes in Freelancer (essentially natural Jump Gates) appear as swirling, red-and-blue Space Clouds with white specks.
  • The superportal from Half-Life 2: Episode 2
  • Can be found in Landflix Odyssey. They will pull Larry in if he is close enough.
  • In Mystery Of Mortlake Mansion, these are located behind each Portal Door, allowing travel between the real-world mansion and the "shadowy" version.
  • Used for the box art of Quest for Glory III, probably used to represent the demonic World Gate.
  • The Gravitational Singularity looks this way on most Space Station 13 servers, especially the sixth stage present on /tg/station and derivatives.
  • The jump points in the later installments of the Wing Commander series are depicted, in video cutscenes, as opening into these, then reversing the effect after the ship has passed into hyperspace.
  • The space anomalies from Starbound are represented by this.
  • The plot of Dissidia Final Fantasy: Opera Omnia is about the opening of "Torsions" in the artificial world created by the gods of Dissidia NT, dark swirling masses which spawn monsters and destabilize the world's fabric. It's also where new characters appear from; they fall into the other end of the Torsion in their home world.
  • The Void from Silent Hill: Downpour is a bizarre vortex of swirling red light that actively pursues the player through the Silent Hill Otherworld, sucking in everything that comes near. When you get too close to it, time slows down, everything distorts and Murphy's body begins to flake apart. Nobody has a clue what it is or why it exists and nothing like it has ever been seen in Silent Hill before. Yahtzee described it as "some wibbly-wobbly black hole with red bits, like something that got lost on its way to the Star Trek visual effects department.
  • The wells from Sunless Skies, this universe's equivalent to black holes. Besides terrorising your crew, they've been known to host cults, serve as prisons for are-nots and other undesirables, or grant wishes.

  • Inter-dimensional portals in Bob and George tend to look, in George's words, "it's big and shiny and looks like what an extra-dimensional portal should".
  • In El Goonish Shive, Nioi has a marble sized ball which creates a dimensional portal which has this general appearance but the shape of a doorway.
  • In Slightly Damned, the portals to Medius in Heaven were black swirly energy thingies.
  • Where two or more Ley Lines meet in Elf Blood, they will push up against each other to form an Eyrie which is a valuable magical resource.
  • Homestuck has this in the form of Kernelsprites, swirling orbs which can adopt the traits of the first two things they touch.
  • Regarding the Swirly Thingy over Norway, self-admitted Mad Scientist Tony Flaansas of Real Life Comics pointed out that it could also be a villain trying to hypnotize Norway. When asked if he had tried to hypnotize Norway, his response was "Of course not, that's silly. I tried to blow it up, but my missile failed."

    Web Animation 
  • In Advent of Sock, Sock creates a purple vortex within their owner's fridge, though it's never shown if the vortex leads anywhere.

    Web Original 
  • Makuta's floating swirl of LEGO parts and some other stuff in the early BIONICLE on-line clips. Fans tend to call it "the Void", but that's most likely a misinterpretation of one of his lines. In fact, it's never cleared what it is, and it isn't represented in subsequent media. Could be where he kept his spare parts...
    • That last part has later been confirmed to be canon. When shifting into the small form he kept while facing the Toa, Makuta placed the rest of his mass into the swirly cloud as a way of dealing with Shapeshifter Baggage. It helped him avoid the problem he had faced some years before, where he had to absorb mass and energy from things around him after having disguised as a smaller character for some time. This energy absorption also took the form a Swirly Energy Thingy.
  • Timmy falls into one of these in the pilot of The Time... Guys when he leaves the Time... Car in mid-transit.

    Western Animation 
  • The Ghosts of Christmas in Barbie in a Christmas Carol travel through time and space with palette swapped versions of a vortex.
  • When Megatron destabilizes history in the second season finale of Beast Wars, a huge time-swirl starts spreading out into space with Earth at its center.
  • Doc Terror's "Neutron Vortex" from the Centurions episode "To Dare Dominion."
  • In the Futurama episode "Roswell that Ends Well", the Planet Express crew is sucked into the past by a Time Rift, a sort of red whirlpool in space caused by the interaction of radiation from a supernova and an exploding microwave oven.
  • If their stature didn't give it away, you could pin My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic's Princesses Luna and Celestia as powerful from their manes and tails being composed not of hair but of a nebula and an aurora respectively.
  • Ninjago: The Time Vortex in Season 7 is a colorful vortex roughly the shape of an infinity symbol, and past events (and even events from Alternate Timelines) can be seen on the "walls" if you look close enough. While it was originally created by the combined absorbed powers of the Time Twins in order to banish them from Ninjago, the brothers later set out to design a machine which used those same powers to allow them to travel through the vortex at will.
  • The Transformers: Generation 1 two-part episode "Dinobot Island" featured various swirly energy time vortexes dropping historical animals, people, and objects into the present day.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (SatAM): The Void.

    Real Life 
  • There have been several such energy spirals appearing all over the world.
    1. China - 1988
    2. Russia - 2006
    3. Norway - 2009
    4. Australia - 2010
    5. Israel - 2012
  • Jupiter's Great Red Spot has been swirlin' for the last few hundred years, though it's less of an energy thing and more of a gigantic cyclone storm three times the size of Earth.
  • Black hole accretion disks. Lots of swirly. Lots of energy. Lots of thingy.
    • Taken up to eleventybillion by quasars. They have so much swirly, energy, and thingy in such a small area that they appear to be point sources (like stars, hence the original acronym QSR or quasi-stellar radio source). The accretion disk in this case is typically about the size of the solar system around a black hole billions of times more massive than the Sun, but has the brightness and energy output of a galaxy. Oh, and about a Sun's worth of stuff falls in each year to fuel it. If it happens to be pointed directly at us, it looks even more ludicrously bright, and gets called a "Blazar".
    • A quasar is, in fact, a specific kind of galactic core. A really big black hole with a really big accretion disc with lots of stuff falling in.
    • The supermassive black hole at the center of our own Milky Way (Sagittarius A) may very well create a quasar when it begins feeding on a massive amount of dust and stars in its vicinity in about 200,000,000 years.
    • Heck, the entire galaxy is a really big swirly energy thingy made of stars, planets, planetoids, nebulae and other things; while it's more solid than most thingies, it does have plenty of stars to make it glow.

Alternative Title(s): Big Wibbly Wobbly Swirly Thing


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