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

Real Life swirly energy thingy.[1]

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 centrifugal force balances out the massive gravity experienced so close to the event horizon. Nonetheless, the black hole will look like this in media 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.

Examples of Swirly Energy Thingy include:

Anime and 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.
  • Uzumaki - Won't you come into the spiral???

Comic Books


  • The Black Hole is one of several films that features a funnel-shaped, rather than flat, accretion disc around the event horizon[2]
  • Fantastic Four had this trope to a T, complete with surprise special effect of re-rolling your stats/DNA for you.
  • The 2009 Star Trek 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.

Tabletop Games


  • Star Trek: Voyager had a million of these over the course of its run. The other Star Trek series weren't above using them either.
  • Babylon 5 used these in jump gates and jump points.
  • 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) and a "white hole" (which spits out everything that a black hole pulls in), plus a dimensional portal.
    • Lampshaded to hell though: 'It's a warp in the space time continuum!' 'Can you be sure?' 'There's certainly all the signs: There's a great big wibbly wobbly swirly thing heading straight towards us.'
    • And of course the quote from the top of this page, which comes from another example of lampshading this trope:

 Cat: Something's shown up on the long range scanners that weird with a capital WE.

Lister: Can you be a tad more scientific ?

Cat: Come again ?

Kryten: Is it a wibbly thing or a swirly thing, sir ?

    • This is indeed a common problem for the Dwarfers.

 Cat: I hate to go all technical on you but, ALL HANDS ON DECK SWIRLY THING ALERT!

  • 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.
  • 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...
  • 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.

Western Animation

  • The Void from the Sonic Sat AM continuity of Sonic the Hedgehog.
  • Doc Terror's "Neutron Vortex" from the Centurions episode "To Dare Dominion".
  • 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.

Video Games

  • The Jump Holes in Freelancer (essentially natural Jump Gates) appear as swirling, red-and-blue Space Clouds with white specks.
  • 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.
  • Dawn of War 2 and its expansions actually showed Imperial ships jumping in and out of the warp, whose jump rifts basically fit into this. Bonus points for also making it 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.
  • 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 they probably look like a real wormhole might do, ie, boring.

Web Comics

  • 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."
  • Inter-dimensional portals in Bob and George tend to look like this. Or, 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.

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...

Real Life

  • In 2009 over Norway, a swirling vortex was seen by many people (and recorded by several) that was initially a UFO. However, it became an IFO when it was identified as the exhaust from a missile that was spinning out of control.
    • Now the only question is wondering if it is funny or sad that many people were comforted by it being someone the Russians testing missiles instead of "something else."
      • "Oh, don't worry, it's just an out-of-control Russian missile."
    • Of course, for those of us who don't buy the cover story, Adult Swim has offered a convincing alternative theory; it is clearly a portal to the dinosaurs.
  • Jupiter's Great Red Spot has been swirlin' for the last few hundred years.
  • 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.
      • 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.
  1. Generally agreed to be a Russian missile test gone WAY the hell out of control, but where's the fun in that?
  2. You won't actually see anything funnel-shaped if you look at a black hole, as the "funnel" doesn't point anywhere in three-dimensional space. A black hole looks like a sphere. (Though you can, in a sense, see the "dimpling" of space by the distortion of the starlight near the edge of hole...auuuuggggh forget it, just look at the picture in Wikipedia.) Once you pass through the black hole's event horizon, space and time swap places. The all-crushing singularity at the center of the black hole, which was previously "down," is now "the future." Specifically, your future. The only way to avoid the singularity now is to start going backward in time. Black holes may thus be considered the end of the universe that has got here a little early.