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Revision as of 15:42, 8 August 2012

Welcome to the explain xkcd wiki! We already have 11 comic explanations!

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ISS Solar Transit 2
Most people don't realize it, but they actually launch a new space station every few weeks because this keeps happening.
Title text: Most people don't realize it, but they actually launch a new space station every few weeks because this keeps happening.


This Friday comic is a continuation of the Monday comic from the same week, 1828: ISS Solar Transit, where Cueball was preparing his camera in order to capture the transit of the International Space Station (ISS) across the Sun. The comic is also made in the same special way using split panels. As a noted in the first comic in the ISS series the white balance is still not set properly, because the sun looks orange instead of white/yellow.

However, instead of transiting across the face of the sun, the ISS crashes into the Sun. In reality, of course, this can never happen, because the ISS orbits Earth at an altitude of between 330 and 435 km, while the Earth orbits the Sun at an altitude of about 149.60 million kilometers or 1 astronomical unit. This means the minimum distance between the ISS and the Sun is only slightly less than 1 AU. Also, due to parallax, only people in a very localized region on earth are able to see the ISS "hit" the sun. For all others the ISS would travel past the sun.

Additionally, even if the ISS would somehow impact the sun, it would not make a noticeable splash, due to being incredibly tiny compared to the sun. It would get vaporized before reaching it. (See the what if? Tungsten Countertop). And it would make no "Fwoosh" sound to be heard on Earth, primarily because there's a lot of empty space between Earth and the Sun, and sound cannot propagate in empty space.

The title text plays on the event in the comic, by saying that a new space station is being launched every few weeks as the event in the comic keeps happening, so a continuation of ISSs gets destroyed by crashing into the Sun on a regular basis. This is clearly implausible, as it has taken many years to build up the ISS, and there are at least three astronauts on board that would get killed a couple of times a month.

It's possible that the comic is a play on conspiracy theories about space exploration, such as the moon landing being faked. In these situations, while the government may be trying to cover up or show something different from what actually happened, amateur photographers/astronomers/radio enthusiasts (such as Cueball in this comic) claim to observe the event independently of government or commercial sources, and see what really happened. In this case, the conspiracy theory would be that the ISS actually does crash into the sun every few weeks, but we're made to believe that it orbits the earth without crashing, while Cueball is able to observe what really happens with his camera.


[Every panel is split into two half-height panels arranged vertically.]
[The first top panel shows an image of an orange sun on a black background with a white dot labeled in light-blue letter at the top right corner. The dot is in a light-blue cross-hair and a light-blue dotted trail is behind it as indicating movement towards the sun.]
[In the bottom panel Cueball is kneeling in front of a small platform while operating a camera with a very long objective while holding a smartphone. The camera is angled sharply upward toward the sky as it is attached to a tripod standing on the platform.]
Cueball: Perfect! Transit in three... two...
[The upper image is the same but the dot has halved the distance to the sun.]
[Cueball sits in the panel below.]
[In the upper panel the dotted line enters the Sun and the white dot has plunged into the sun making a flare "splash" out from the surface of the Sun. This makes a sound written in orange letters.]
[Cueball sits silent in the panel below.]


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