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Revision as of 16:59, 20 November 2012

Welcome to the explain xkcd wiki! We already have 4 comic explanations!

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Eclipse Science
I was thinking of observing stars to verify Einstein's theory of relativity again, but I gotta say, that thing is looking pretty solid at this point.
Title text: I was thinking of observing stars to verify Einstein's theory of relativity again, but I gotta say, that thing is looking pretty solid at this point.


Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: More on eclipses (links). Do NOT delete this tag too soon.

The second solar eclipse related comic in a row, the previous being 1876: Eclipse Searches. Released only five days before the 2017 eclipse in the USA.

This comic reflects on various reasons scientists have for being interested in a total solar eclipse. An eclipse is an astronomical event, which most laypeople associate with science and thus might assume would be of interest to scientists. However, when the reporter probes Megan on scientific interest on the eclipse, Megan gives short and sarcastic answers, downplaying any experimental significance of the phenomenon and indicating that her only interest is in spectacle rather than science. She also makes the point that science is no more involved in an eclipse than any other spectator event, and does not work to observe phenomenon without any interest in discovery. Eclipses are well-understood events and there is no lack of models for explaining the physics behind them; the alignment of bodies in space is a result of orbital mechanics which are present at all times, making the whole event only significant to the observer.

While some astronomers might be testing elaborate hypotheses during an eclipse, for other scientists (eg. organic chemists and herpetologists) it is just a once in a long time (maybe even once in a lifetime) event which is visually interesting.

Megan's point is that in 2017 (and for several decades/centuries previous) eclipses are thoroughly understood. Wikipedia has a listing of every eclipse that will occur in the 21st Century, to include the coordinates and time of greatest eclipse. While eclipses offer a unique opportunity for ground based observation of the Sun's outer layers the majority of the study of the sun is done by satellites that do not require an eclipse to take readings.

The title text refers to a 1919 experiment during an eclipse to observe gravitational deflection of light waves.


[Hairy is speaking into a microphone while interviewing Megan.]
Hairy: Tell us, are you scientists excited for the eclipse?
Megan: Sure, lots of people are!
[Zoom in on Megans head.]
Hairy (off-panel): Is this a big moment for science?
Megan: It's a big moment for the sky.
[Same setting as first panel in a wider panel.]
Hairy: Are people really excited enough about science to travel to see it?
Megan: Honestly, it's not that scientific. I mean, it's cool if you're into astronomy, but it's also cool if you're, like, aware of the sun.
[Same setting.]
Hairy: But there's lots of science involved.
Megan: I guess? There's lots of science involved in the Olympics, but you don't need to be a scientist to watch.
[Megan holds a hand out towards Hairy.]
Megan: It's not like the concept is all that arcane of mathematical. It's a thing going in front of another thing.
[Zoom in on Megan holding both arms out.]
Hairy (off-panel): Then why are you so excited?
Megan: I'm excited because it's a nearly once-in-a-lifetime chance to watch the sun go dark, hear birds freak out, and see a glowing ring appear in the sky with a sunset on every horizon.
[Back to same setting as in the first panel.]
Hairy : Will you be making any scientific observations?
Megan: I will be, like, "Holy shit, look at the sky."
Megan: Maybe also "This is so cool."
Megan: We'll see!

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