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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.
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.
One point that is never taken into consideration is that the various astronomical nebulae that are known by appearance (Crab Nebula, Orion Nebula, Pillars of Creation, ect), are known solely by the appearance that they had at some time in the distant past. The Crab Nebula is estimated, for example to be approximately 6300 light years from Earth. This means that the image of the nebula that we are most familiar with is of its appearance 6300 years ago. Astronomers are somewhat certain that if we were able to instantaneously observe the present form of these nebula, they would look nothing like the pictures we have of them and for all that is known, they may no longer exist. Furthermore, nebulae are made of matter. When you fly through matter with a spaceship, collisions will ensue which might, or depending on the speed of your spaceship, will wreak havoc to the hull. Just to give a sense of scale, a single fog-sized water drop which collides with a spaceship at half the speed of light has the impact force of about 200 kilograms of TNT. Space Clouds may contain more than one drop of water.
- The Mutara Nebula in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is one of the best-known and most imitated examples.
- Most egregiously in Star Trek: Voyager, where during the last 3 seasons, they encounter a "mutara-class" nebula almost every episode.
- The Ion Cloud around Mr. Universe's planet in Serenity. Humorously, in the commentary, Joss Whedon reveals that he's well-aware of how unrealistic it is:
Joss Whedon: "I have no idea what an 'ion cloud' is or why it would act like this, but we needed for that shot, so we have it."
- The 2011 film Thor features a dazzling journey through the cosmos via the rainbow bridge through a nebula which looks suspiciously like the the Pillars Of Creation, complete with the false coloration featured in the famous Hubble photo.
- 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.
- Also 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 the Star Trek: Voyager 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. Captain Janeway even orders the hull breaches sealed to avoid having an "indoor nebula."
- Don't forget the opening credits where we see the Voyager passing though a cloud just a few kilometers thick, yet dense enough for us to see. Voyager evoked this trope literally every episode.
- In the 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 Reimagined makes the nebulae-are-visible-close-up mistake. Especially with Lee flying through low-visibility conditions in the Ionian nebula.
- 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.
- Free Space 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 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.
- 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.
- 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 owner has a specific racial trait. They also disable shields that haven't been properly upgraded.
- 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.
- Matter Splatter Galaxy from Super Mario Galaxy.
- 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.
- ↑ It's there to cut the Citadel off once the Reapers succeed in shutting down the Mass Relay network.