Okay, here's the deal. When the Enterprise (TNG, of course) is under attack, and Riker says 'Red Alert' in the way that only Riker can, the main overhead illumination goes out, and all we're left with is annoying red alert bulbs and indirect lighting from the floor.


Okay, I can see they wanted to make The Federation a lot like the Navy -- So when a Destroyer is in Enemy waters at night they kill most of the lights to avoid detection. But would that really work in space? How on earth will killing the lights on the bridge help conceal a craft that is on order of scale large than Westminter Abby? Are the Romulans really going to say "Well, gee, that *looks* like a Federation ship, but there's no lights on in the Bridge, so I'm sure it's just our imagination. Lt. FookJub, drop the shields and put the large, comical bullseye back on the underside of the ship."

I mean really.

The_Custodian: I know, I know, I thought of that... but none of it is nearly as funny if you put it like that. I need laughter to justify my existence!

Engages in vigorous handwaving and holds nose whilst diving into the treknology kiddie pool

Well, I can think of a couple of reasons you would do this.

  • Emphasize the serious nature of the situation for the crew (not too likely)
  • Shut down nonessential systems to conserve power (for stuff like, say, the shields) and simplify power management (likely)
  • Shut down systems which might cause hazards if damaged while operating (there's enough arcing power and Magic Smoke 'N' Sparx from the critical stuff like the helm console!)
  • Improve low light vision (the real reason wet-navy ships do it) so that in case of having to perform damage control with no lights you don't need to acclimate (possible)
  • Make consoles and other critical visual aids more visible from a distance (possible)

Since (especially when Riker is commanding) we end up on battery power after the Red Alert anyhow (since the cause of the alert has likely tuned to the shield frequency and proceeded to whup-ass all over the Big E and maybe even muss Riker's hairspray) then why not just lower the power demand now? :-)

In response to xunker's addendum:

Oh, well, if you put it like that, then I can tell you the real reason.

It's secret.

See, the crew of the Enterprise are (not surprisingly) geeks. Therefore they work better at night, need caffeine, and are sensitive to surrounding bogon particle levels.

Dangerous situations is when you want your crew at maximum performance.

The Enterprise contains a Bogon Interdeck Filtration and Forwarding System (BIFFS) which serves to maximize crew performance for short periods of time by removing the zener particles known as bogons from the Big E's atmosphere. This creates an artificial, corresponding high percentage of clueons in the ship's interior. The bogons are then stored temporarily in a Quantum Interferometric Zener Retention Ovosphere (QUIZRO). However, the operation of BIFFS takes an enormous amount of power.

Therefore, since the crew operates better at 'night' anyhow, the lights are dimmed and the power saved is then sent to run BIFFS and also power the replicators to produce the enormous quantities of Red Bull and Jolt that will be demanded of them when yawning, groggy, naughty-bit-scratching crew members reach their duty stations. See, since caffeine is such a high-energy substance, you need to put a lot of energy into the replicators to make it. Handily, geeks and Starfleet personnel work better at night, so you have all this extra power.

Of course, the Laws of Quantum Bogodynamics mean that this unbalanced zener distribution can only be maintained for a short while. Not only will the ship's systems drain available power due to higher demand, but bogon storage accumulators become dangerously full and require emptying in order to prevent Catastrophic High-order Asininity Overload Syndrome (CHAOS) from affecting the crew as the stored bogons spread violently and uncontrollably back through the ship. Now, normally, the system is set to dump all the stored bogons out of the QUIZRO, at the end of the alert, into a Designated Internal Personnel Storage for High Intensity Transfer unit (DIPSHIT). The particles are then allowed to escape slowly back into their environment by emanating from the DIPSHIT in question (The Big E has two redundant assigned units, Ens. Wesley Crusher and LCdr. William Riker).

In cases of severe emergency, eXtra Unit Neutronium Kilo-Erg Retainers (XUNKERs) can be activated to augment BIFFS, but this takes more available power. The danger here is that these units are somewhat unstable, and may fail unexpectedly due to Tertiary High-Energy Flux Emission of Zeners (THEFEZ). THEFEZ arriving on the scene always indicates definite increases in localized incidents of CHAOS in the Designated Energy Management, BOgoN Extraction Systems computer (DEMBONES).

Now, there are a few prescription Starfleet responses to such THEFEZ CHAOS in DEMBONES. One early-warning system, the Non-Axial Twin Emitter (NATE) can be deployed to try to either reduce THEFEZ CHAOS inputs, stabilize DEMBONES, or even (in cases of extreme emergency) perform a Wide-ORDer (Galaxy Class) Generator sweep (Word galaxy Generator procedure) which may restore equilibrium to the stressed systems at the cost of agitated NODERS (Neutronium Omni-Directional Echo Resonators). These typically require a cooling-off period before the Word galaxy generator can be activated again.

So, as you can see, the problem of power, zener particle management, caffeine production and distribution, THEFEZ CHAOS in DEMBONES requiring NATE's WORD GALAXY GENERATOR as well as the more mundane problems listed above all contribute to the darkening of the Big E's lights during an alert.


A very realistic reason to do this, in a space combat situation, would be to reduce your electromagnetic flux profile.

No, that isn't Star Trek technobabble. Consider: every time you switch on a lightbulb, a certain amount of electromagnetic radiation is produced. Not all of this is visible light; there is a small but definite amount of RF energy produced. Most of the time our radio equipment is dealing with signals that overwhelm any such radiation, but if you're trying to hide from an enemy starship while sitting in deep space fifty lightyears from the nearest star, you want to produce as little energy as possible -- your enemy might detect the stray radiation, figure out which direction it came from, and use it to get a lock-on.

Of course, with the amount of visible light that a Star Trek-style starship reflects and produces, this wouldn't make any sort of difference. Didn't anyone tell them that the best way to hide a starship would be to paint it black? Make it radar-absorbent, too, while you're at it.

On reflection, just turning out the lights probably wouldn't make a whole lot of difference in the amount of radiation being produced by a starship; after all, starships tend to have fusion reactors, antimatter generators, nuclear warheads, and other such energy-producing devices aboard, which would make any benefit from turning out the lights effectively nil. But if, say, the Klingons have managed to baffle those radiations enough so that they can use a cloaking device, Federation starships might have similar capabilities, and it helps to lock down every bit of stray EM one can.

The reason why I think they do it is to increase display contrast and reduce glare. Think about it, when was the last time you used the computer in sunlight? All the glare is killer. Even the reduced contrast is pretty serious.

In a combat situation, you need every edge you can get. If improving the contrast can get you a 1% performance improvement, its worth it. After all, battles are fought and won on slim margins.

Red looks cool.

Red has been globally adopted by humans as the colour of danger. Blood is this colour, as is fire. Blood and fire are not naturally regular sights to the human eye. If you can see blood or fire about the place then in terms of my over-simplified definition of 'nature', something somewhere is going wrong.

The human eye is tuned to a range of frequencies on the electromagnetic spectrum commonly defined as visible light. Red light is low frequency, followed by Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue and Violet which are higher frequencies. There is an argument that the only reason we evolved to see anything redder than green was because of the specific importance to animals of detecting blood and fire. Grass and sky, both important in their own right, have no truck with redness and the disdain is mutual (well it would rather have to be).

Thus, when Mr Riker proposes a foray into the state of 'red alert' we humans instinctively picture blood and fire. And Coca-Cola. And Santa Claus. Thus the concept of Danger springs forth in our minds and the adrenaline begins to flow. For us watching the show back home this serves to involve us in the drama playing out across our phosphor screens (or perhaps upon the large screen of the cinema). For the human crew members of the Enterprise, this helps them cultivate a mindset of panic and fear, and survival instincts kick in, hence the overwhelming urge to charge about the ship with weapons levelled and fingers on the proverbial (and often actual) triggers.

Of course in recent millenia, humankind has clawed its way out of the blundering clutches of biological evolution through natural selection, and we have both redefined the meaning and status of blood and fire (which are now positive signs of progress and prosperity, so the more the better) and adjusted the proliferation and diversity of the colours we see in our everyday lives (red, amongst others, being usurped from its mundane prior roles to be the colour of choice for all kinds of things, from edible underpants to humerous nasal adornments). This is why the ship accompanies the mood lighting effect with a wail from a siren, and in case there are any hardcore thrill-seekers aboard, attempts to set everyone else on edge with a freakishly calm synthesised human voice, for those particularly important red-alerts, eg "The ship will turn into a giant space-bourne blender in approximately eighteen point three seven four oh two seconds, you have a choice between hard vacuum or a prolonged evisceration. Please remain calm. This is a no-smoking starship. No running, petting or diving in the corridors. Thankyou for lis-".

Of course, what with the Enterprise being a kind of childish vision of a heterogenous, cosmopolitan, utopian hell, there are a lot more species besides humans aboard, and a little known fact is how the designers of the ship have sought to impress the concepts of danger, panic and imminent, grisly demise upon these other more exotic denizens, as for many of these species, the colour red reminds them of fresh Joola grubs as mother used to make, the ship's siren sounds remarkably like the gentle whoosing of the autumn wind through the fields of Koala Bear analogues and the parapsychotic ramblings of a subsentient automaton serve to gently lull them to spontaneous, all-orifice, simultaneous ejaculation (a phenomenon they find quite pleasing, if a little tiresome to clean up after). So the inspired engineers set about fitting the ship out with a secondary system whose function is to irradiate the entire ship with as wide a spectrum of electromagnetic radiation as possible, both above and below that which can be perceived by (wo)man, set to pulse and strobe at numerous cycling sub-frequencies, thus flickering and flashing quite randomly relative to one another, whilst the air is bombarded with all frequencies that can be generated by the ships PA system, again, cycling and pulsing randomly and again only above or below that range of frequencies audible to wo(man) - (in common parlance this sonic range is called 'audible light'). Whilst in most cases this serves to send any alien species into a kind of desperate mania, thereby neatly augmenting the actual danger, it does serve to keep them out of the way so that the real heroes aboard (the humen) can go about solving the problem undisturbed from their adrenaline/testosterone high.

This is why the red alert is red.

Kudos to Tato who reminds us that Red is not suggestive of danger in all cultures. He points out, as an example, that in China red means luck. This explains why, in one episode, when Red Alert sounds aboard the NCC-1701, Mr Sulu leaps into the air with a cry of "YEAAAH Suck it down you slags!" and then suddenly stops mid-pelvic-thrust with a confused expression on his face before rapidly returning to his swivel-chair, and attempting to get on with his work as inconspicuously as possible. Yes he does. The episode is called "The beans of crazy" (as yet un-noded). You must have missed it.

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