Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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The joke is that these particular squirrels are ambitious but misguided, like the characters in the myth of Icarus and Daedalus, or the Tower of Babel. The squirrels' understanding of astrophysics is lacking, regarding the distance to the sun and appropriate transportation to reach it (in addition to the need to resist the sun's heat and exist in the vacuum of space). It can be seen as a joke about how limited the knowledge of humans still is regarding many advanced topics of science. The idea of taking a balloon to the moon or the sun might not have been immediately rejected even a few hundred years ago. And the fanciful notion of a sun filled with acorns (the ultimate object in a squirrel's reality) is reminiscent of many early human ideas about heaven and celestial objects, even the common old myth that the moon might be made out of cheese.
The title text reveals that "halfway to the sun," 75 million kilometers from all known acorns in our universe, the airborne squirrel seems to jeopardize the entire mission because he wants to test if the balloon itself is full of acorns. Basic observational skills will tell anyone that acorns do not float, but the idea follows the logic stated by the squirrels: If the sun, being so magnificent, must be full of acorns, then a balloon powerful enough to take a squirrel to the sun must also be powered by something amazing, like acorns.
In the real world helium balloons cannot escape the stratosphere. Perhaps the squirrel only thinks he's halfway to the sun. Or maybe the acorns in the balloon are pushing on the quantum vacuum virtual plasma.
Alternate hypothesis: this scene is almost identical to a scene found in the recent movie Kingsman: TSS.
Squirrels in xkcd
Squirrels are often used in xkcd and What if? comics as a way of avoiding reality. Maybe Randall is going through a tough time this week.
It is commonly believed that real squirrels use their tails as parachutes, although as yet "there have been no observational studies on the aerodynamics of free-falling squirrels."
- [There are three squirrels. One is suspended from a balloon. The other two are sitting on the ground, looking up at it.]
- Squirrel to the right: Once you've chewed a hole in the sun, shoot the balloon to fall back to earth, then pull the parachute ripcord to land.
- Squirrel tied to balloon: Are you sure it's full of acorns?
- Squirrel to the right: Look how bright and magnificent it is! What else could be in there?
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