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"Is it a wibbley thing or a swirly thing, sir?"
Kryten, Red Dwarf
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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, although some black holes have an accretion disk made of matter orbiting around them that may look like this. Without it, viewers won't know the black hole is there.

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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.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    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.

    Comic Books 
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    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Black Hole is one of several films that features a funnel-shaped, rather than flat, accretion disc around the event horizon.note 
  • 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.
  • Interstellar: Much of the film takes place in a system around a black hole that has twenty-five 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 ninety-degree angle. It's probably the weirdest looking portrayal of a black hole ever, while also being the most scientifically accurate.
  • Star Trek 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.
  • Ultraman Tiga Gaiden: Revival of the Ancient Giant has a time vortex that transports the hero, Tsubasa Madoka, from 2038 to 5000 years ago, where he encounters the mythical hero, Ultraman Tiga, several millennia before Tiga made himself known to the present.

    Literature 
  • The Empirium Trilogy: While the Prophet is masking their and Eliana's doings, Eliana takes the time to open up a hole in the sky above Elysium. Dubbed Ostia by Elysium's citizens, the hole casts a purplish hue over the city and is a direct entrance into the Deep.
  • Zeus Is Dead: When the Ninjas Templar manage to get the cans containing the Titans opened, their release involves coming out of the resulting Swirly Energy Thingy.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The page image is from Babylon 5, and it's one of the artificially-created examples; the jump points used by most races to access hyperspace appear as yellow or blue vortices in space (yellow when entering hyperspace, blue when leaving).
  • 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.
  • Farscape: One of these kicks 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.
  • 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!
  • 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.
  • Star Trek:

    Pinballs 
  • The Twilight Zone: The Spirals. Aside from being decorative, they can also temporarily trap a pinball, which is helpful for making some of the shots.

    Roleplay 

    Tabletop Games 

    Toys 
  • BIONICLE: Makuta's floating swirl of LEGO parts and some other stuff in the early online 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.

    Video Games 
  • Dawn of War II and its expansions show Imperial ships jumping in and out of the Warp, whose jump rifts look like the ships are being pulled in by giant lightning tentacles. Which, knowing the nature of the Warp, is entirely possible to be what is actually happening.
  • Dissidia Final Fantasy: Opera Omnia: The plot 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 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.
  • Freelancer: The Jump Holes (essentially natural Jump Gates) appear as swirling, red-and-blue Space Clouds with white specks.
  • Silent Hill: Downpour: The Void 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.
  • Space Station 13: The Gravitational Singularity looks this way on most servers, especially the sixth stage present on /tg/station and derivatives.

    Web Animation 
  • Sock Series: 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 Comics 
  • Bob and George: Interdimensional portals tend to look, in George's words, "big and shiny and [...] like what an extra-dimensional portal should".
  • El Goonish Shive: Nioi has a marble-sized ball that creates a dimensional portal which has this general appearance but the shape of a doorway.
  • Homestuck has this in the form of Kernelsprites, swirling orbs which can adopt the traits of the first two things they touch.
  • Real Life Comics: Regarding the Swirly Thingy over Norway, the self-admitted Mad Scientist Tony Flaansas points out that it can also be a villain trying to hypnotize Norway. When asked if he tried to hypnotize Norway, his response is "Of course not, that's silly. I tried to blow it up, but my missile failed."
  • Slightly Damned: The portals to Medius in Heaven are black swirly energy thingies.

    Web Videos 
  • In Space with Markiplier: The Wormhole looks like a swirl of glowing space when you and Mark jump in and travel through it.
  • The Time... Guys: Timmy falls into one of these in the pilot when he leaves the Time... Car in mid-transit.

    Western Animation 
  • Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Played for Laughs in "Balloonenstein", where the Mad Scientist Dr. Weird creates a massive swirling vortex for... well, no reason whatsoever. The vortex later manifests over Carl's swimming pool, and Carl and Frylock are sucked into it and end up in an alternate universe for a week. Frylock is fine, but Carl's hands have grown to an enormous size (each hand is about the size of his own body). The vortex appears for a third time at the end of the episode for a convenient Deus ex Machina.
  • Barbie in a Christmas Carol: The Ghosts of Christmas travel through time and space with palette swapped versions of a vortex.
  • Beast Wars: When Megatron destabilizes history in the second season finale, a huge time-swirl starts spreading out into space with Earth at its center.
  • Futurama: In "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.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • Princesses Luna and Celestia are identified as something more than regular ponies by their manes and tails being composed not of hair but of a nebula and an aurora respectively.
    • My Little Pony: Equestria Girls – Friendship Games: The dimensional rifts generated by Twilight's magic-collecting pendant take the form of a circular portal surrounded by a blue halo, purple energy spirals and a pink ring, constantly shifting and making sinister electric noises.
  • 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: "Dinobot Island" features various swirly energy time vortexes dropping historical animals, people, and objects into the present day.

    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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