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Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Altitude
"TURN OFF THE LASER GUIDE STAR" "WHY" "STAR CATS"
Title text: "TURN OFF THE LASER GUIDE STAR" "WHY" "STAR CATS"

Explanation

Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: '

In this comic, Randall is making fun of how oxygen deprivation can lead to reduced mental acuity. In this case, mental state of the researchers devolves as the approach the high altitude telescope, and reaches such a poor state when they arrive as to lead to juvenile (almost intoxicated) behavior. While "dizziness" and "lightheadedness" are common symptoms, the other behavior is not.

The title text refers to a device used to make artificial reference points in the sky for astronomical observation. The reference points are created by shooting a powerful laser into the sky. The concern of the astronomer in the comic is that an imagined "star cat" may be attracted to the laser in the same way cats on Earth playfully chase laser beams projected on surfaces.

Transcript

Commentary: Because of low oxygen, astronomers working at high altitude telescopes may need to write down their plans ahead of time while at sea level.
[Some astronomers are inside a sea-level research facility]
Astronomer #1: Ok, let's head up to the observatory.
[The astronomers drive uphill]
Astronomer #1: When we reach the summit, we'll check the iodine cell and do a general calibration.
Astronomer #2: Sounds good.
[The astronomers have reached the high-altitude observatory]
Astronomer #1: My head feels funny.
Astronomer #2: Look at those telescope domes. I hope they don't roll away.
Astronomer #3: Maybe we should tape them down.
[The astronomers are inside the high-altitude observatory]
Astronomer #1: Haha, look at this mirror! My face is huge!
Astronomer #2: I see your face in the telescope! I discovered you!
Astronomer #3: Let's make out!
[Caption reads]
"TURN OFF THE LASER GUIDE STAR" "WHY" "STAR CATS"



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