2017: Stargazing 2

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"2017", this comic's number, redirects here. For the comic named "2017", see 1779: 2017.
Stargazing 2
I mean, it wasn't exactly MY thesis. When the FAA came to shut down our observatory for using the telescope mirror to shine light at airplanes, I took a thesis and a bunch of doctorates from the supply cabinet on my way out.
Title text: I mean, it wasn't exactly MY thesis. When the FAA came to shut down our observatory for using the telescope mirror to shine light at airplanes, I took a thesis and a bunch of doctorates from the supply cabinet on my way out.


This is the second comic in the Stargazing series: The first was 1644: Stargazing, two and a half years earlier. It was followed by 2274: Stargazing 3 one and a half years later.

This comic continues with Megan as a TV host mixing accurate astronomical information with trivialities, as well as utterly bizarre statements. (See this section from the original Stargazing comic about the host and also the trivia, from the original comic, regarding the gender of the host).

In the first panel, the host voices surprise that the stars are visible again after disappearing during daylight.

The host mentions three stars in a constellation which she says is called The Triangle, likely referring to the constellation Triangulum, which is in fact just three main stars in a narrow triangle. However, this may also simply be intended to show the host's lack of knowledge of constellations, since she then goes on to point out three other stars forming a triangle and concludes that one can form lots of triangles by connecting groups of three stars. In Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometry, any set of three non-collinear points will form a triangle, so to say that there are a "lotta triangles" is both trivial and an understatement.[citation needed] (There are about 125 billion triangles visible in the night sky with around 9096 visible stars.)

Then she points to planets, calling them dots known as "fool's stars" (like fool's gold). Planets such as Venus and Jupiter are often mistaken as stars, and the word itself is derived from the Greek, planētēs or "wanderer." She also notes that lacking interstellar transportation, humanity will likely only reach the planets within our solar system. However, she then makes the seemingly ludicrous assertion that humans will turn these planets into interplanetary landfills, which might be a comment on how humans have used the Earth. See 2633: Astronomer Hotline where an astronomer calls fireflies "ground stars" and other names.

The host also notices a dot of "space trash": An artificial satellite. Since the nascent Space Age, the Earth's orbit has gradually accumulated artificial materials that include satellites, spent rockets, and space stations. There are concerns such debris accumulation will increasingly imperil current and future space projects. However, the host claims there is an app that can tell you "whose fault it is," presumably a satellite-tracking smartphone app such as SkyView which can inform you who launched a given satellite and thus whose "fault" that particular bit of space-junk might be.

The host eventually goes off on a tangent when someone from the audience points out something blinking in the sky. The host says it is a plane, and tells them what is inside it. The host continues, "don't bother trying to catch that one." This could be understood as she means it's too hard to point the telescope at it properly because it is moving too fast. In the title text, however, she means this literally, revealing that at one point during her studies she apparently used the reflective mirror of a telescope to shine light directly at airplanes, which caused the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to close down the observatory. She claims it was worth getting shut down by the FAA because she completed her thesis for her graduate degree. "Got a thesis out of it" is a phrase typically used by a scholar after discussing a research project, as a way of indicating that it was actually the main research they had conducted as a student in graduate school. Conducting research and writing it up in a thesis is one of the major hurdles toward earning a graduate degree (masters or doctorate).

In the title text, she clarifies that as she was exiting the observatory, she literally "got", as in "stole", someone else's thesis paper and multiple doctorates (presumably framed degrees), either to fraudulently claim them as her own accomplishments, or perhaps just because she wanted to steal stuff. Usually "got a thesis" is shorthand for the process of "writing a lengthy thesis paper and having it be accepted as a requirement for graduation", however in this case she simply swiped someone else's document. The revelations that she's extremely unqualified (and unethical) would explain her many bizarre statements.


[In a dark panel, Megan is a TV host standing in front of a group of 5 people: two Cueballs, Ponytail, Hairbun and a Megan-like woman.]
Host: Welcome back to stargazing.
Host: When the stars disappeared this morning, I figured I had to find a new job, but they're back! This rules!
[A frame-less white panel in which the host points to the upper right with the Megan-like woman, Ponytail and Cueball looking in that direction.]
Host: Those three stars form a constellation called the triangle.
Host: Those three are another triangle.
Host: Lotta triangles. Very important shape.
[Back to a dark panel with the host now pointing to the upper left in a close-up.]
Host: Those dots are planets, or "fool's stars." Without interstellar travel, they're the only ones we can realistically hope to dump trash on.
Host: Speaking of space trash, that dot is a satellite. There are apps that will tell you whose fault it is.
[The host is now turned right not pointing, still in a close-up.]
Off-panel voice: What's that blinking one?
Host: Airplane. They're full of snacks and money and stuff, but don't bother trying to catch them- they're way too high up.
Host: Learned that the hard way in grad school.
Host: Got a thesis out of it, at least.

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In the description for the earlier comic, it is quite emphatically asserted that this is not Megan (although it certainly is drawn like her) but is, instead, a male TV host. 20:21, 9 July 2018 (UTC)MrBigDog2u

Thanks, but I believe the transcript of the former comic was interpreted false. People are often outlined as male when they are in fact women. AND in this comic it's clearly a female without any doubt. --Dgbrt (talk) 21:11, 9 July 2018 (UTC)
Actually if you go to /1646/info.0.json , you'll find the presenter referred to as he twice. Unless you're saying Megan uses he, it seems unlikely to be a female. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ For what it's worth, I assumed it was a female until I read the explanation for 1644. 22:57, 9 July 2018 (UTC)
Two questions about that:
1.) I don't see any use of the word "he" in that transcript. Where do you see that?
2.) Why 1646? Isn't that one with Cueball writing a Twitter bot?
Looking at xkcd.com/1644/info.0.json, xkcd.com/1646/info.0.json, & xkcd.com/2017/info.0.json, I can't find a reference to gender in any of them.
ProphetZarquon (talk) 23:37, 9 July 2018 (UTC)
Hey Zarquon, if you look again at [1], you can see the star guide referenced as “he” a couple times if you carefuread the whole transcript. If alternatively your contribution to this wiki is that of trolling, you are making this rather obvious. If you’re getting different contents for that file than we are, maybe you could upload it to ipfs or something for comparison and tell us the ip addresses that xkcd.com resolves to for you, so that somebody can debug the issue. 07:38, 10 July 2018 (UTC)
Not a troll, but a failure to detect an xkcd site error. It appears the issue is that the xkcd website is sending out json information that is mismatched with the cartoons. That is, https://xkcd.com/1646/info.0.json has the json information for the cartoon at https://xkcd.com/1644/ where we would expect the json data for that cartoon to be at https://xkcd.com/1644/info.0.json. So if you (logically) read https://xkcd.com/1644/info.0.json and search it for "he" or "him" you don't find it. But if all you're doing is looking for "he" or "him" you might not notice that "stargazer" isn't in that json file either. Confirmed the mis-URLed json file for the cartoon does refer to the host as "he." Thisisnotatest (talk) 07:41, 15 July 2018 (UTC)
Wait a minute, that definitely says "She continues to talk"... 14:32, 1 October 2019 (UTC)
Is it possible this is meant to be Brian Cox? The hair is right and he's often noted for his enthusiasm. don't know how well known he is in the US, but a nerd like Randall is very likely to know of him --Luckykaa (talk) 07:50, 10 July 2018 (UTC)
It is certainly Brian Cox as was found out in the first Stargazing and as fits with the offical transcript. It is even named after his show. End of story! I have corrected both explanations. Please don't go there DGBRT. This was discussed back then and was concluded to be so. --Kynde (talk) 14:08, 10 July 2018 (UTC)
There is even a triva with the original transcript in the original copmic to make this clear. Read that first! 1644:_Stargazing#Trivia --Kynde (talk) 14:11, 10 July 2018 (UTC)
But since sometime in 2019 Randall changed the official transcript to calling the host she rather than he, so now of course all the discussion regarding the transcript calling "her" a he, is made invalid by Randall. So seems he did not intend it to be Brian Cox? although I'm still sure he knows him and makes fun of his show --Kynde (talk) 09:06, 4 March 2020 (UTC)

Bullshit. The pronoun "he" does not make him male as a person. That's a stupid preconception, which is perpetuated in the 21st century by a subfaction of feminists, thereby making a fool of themselves. There is no solid hint as to what the actual sex/gender of the figure is, and in this case English language defaults to "he". Maybe Randall indeed thought of Brian Cox, but that's speculation, not basis to infer a gender. And why anyway does it matter?!?!? -- 11:03, 11 July 2018 (UTC)
I disagree it is called Stargazing and he has a show called Stagazing live and is a famous physicist and Randall follows these things and like astronomical phenomenons. I have no doubt it is a reference to Brian cox. And Randall does not use he when it is about Megan in other transcripts! BS to you too ;) --Kynde (talk) 13:25, 13 July 2018 (UTC)
Also, in English, "they" is the indefinite pronoun traditionally used to refer to a person without identifying gender (on either side of the Atlantic). As in, "someone left their keys here". There is no significant confusion on this point; it's been common usage since at least the 1300s, & is considered correct for every English grammar guide I've ever seen. Inanimate objects get the non-gendered "it". English does not default to "he". If anyone wants to refer to someone they don't know the preferred pronoun for, they'd be rude to presume "he" or "she" when it could be either or neither. "They" is correct & this is not new.
ProphetZarquon (talk) 22:53, 28 April 2022 (UTC)

"Don't bother trying to catch them"??? What stellar object would you catch? Unless this is a reference to asteroid mining? 22:47, 9 July 2018 (UTC)SiliconWolf

Those stellar objects are so close compared to all the others, who wouldn't try?? Could you imagine actually meeting another object in this universe of distant interstellar bodies? 23:11, 9 July 2018 (UTC)
I assumed that, having described all the goodies in an aircraft, there's a chance that someone might literally try to catch one by jumping in the air (with a suitably poor concept of distance). Or trying to construct some kind of giant butterfly net. 17:36, 10 July 2018 (UTC)
The Triangle may refer to Summer Triangle It can be found very easily by beginners. 12:22, 10 July 2018 (UTC)
Actually, any three non-colinear points make up a triangle so there are an incredibly large number (not infinite, but ...) of triangles formed by combinations of three stars. I would go so far as to speculate that it may not be possible to find three stars that ARE perfectly colinear (certainly not in three dimensions). I think that's sort of the point of the joke. 16:25, 10 July 2018 (UTC)MrBigDog2u

Is anyone else worried about a reference to shining a light at aircraft? There are decent astronomical reasons to have a moderately (50mW-200mW in my case) powerful laser, since it provides a very visible "pointer" when showing people to bits of the sky (or for lining up a telescope, where you can't see the surroundings easily and amateurs like me can get lost). But there are way too many stories of morons shining lasers at aircraft in an attempt to "cause trouble" (by blinding the pilot and potentially killing hundreds of people in the subsequent crash), so any responsible astronomer would be checking for aircraft in the sky, not doing this anywhere near an airport, and moving the laser in circles to avoid holding it on a target. I don't consider shining a light at a plane to be a topic of amusement. 17:36, 10 July 2018 (UTC)

Have you ever heard of a pilot noticing having a light shined on them from the ground by a pedestrian? It seems to me planes are so far away the jitter of your hand is going to make actually blinding the pilot a comparable task to blinding a moving housefly the same way. The light will also be much weaker at that distance, and the cockpit would have to be aiming at you. I feep pointing at an aircraft with a laser would be pretty safe, because the plane’s angular size is so much smaller than your precision, and it is moving super fast. 19:53, 10 July 2018 (UTC)
I do! And I wonder what would happen to the plane if we tried more power? Hmmm... BytEfLUSh (talk) 19:01, 10 July 2018 (UTC)
Pilots blinded by laser are real issue, but only WHEN LANDING or taking off, and therefore in very low attitude. I don't think it's problem in normal cruising altitude. However, if the telescope was in mountains which the airplanes flied over relatively low ... -- Hkmaly (talk) 21:37, 10 July 2018 (UTC)
A traditional flashlight shone at a pilot is unlikely to do much - although there are definitely consumer lights that could be visible at range. Using a telescope sounds more like generating a searchlight (and there are absolutely members of the public who have picked up military searchlights, and who have attracted attention by firing them even carefully). It does depend what's intended, but I think the implication is that the light is bright enough to do something (if only visibly illuminate the plane); shining a searchlight at an aircraft even at moderate distance is likely to be distracting and possibly blinding. Practically, no, I don't think it's a major issue as described. But aircraft are often at fairly low altitude: they take a while to get near to cruising height near me - I work a few miles from Heathrow, and think I could absolutely get a moderate strike rate on cockpit windows allowing for a bit of spread if I were a homicidal moron - lasers take a while to dissipate. I'm glad there seemed to be no reports of anyone doing this with yesterday's RAF centenary low-altitude flypast. And of course there are a lot of military training flights at very low altitude in some areas. I don't believe there's ever been a case of more than temporary blinding, and no crashes, but since I actually like having access to bright lasers (and conventional flashlights) for justifiable and responsible reasons, I just think pointing bright lights at aircraft a topic worth avoiding in the context of humour. Idiots, though hopefully few read xkcd, are easily encouraged. And when someone finally brings a plane down, it's really not going to be funny. 11:56, 11 July 2018 (UTC)

Does no one else see this as referencing "stars" in the sense of celebrities? That would make sense to me of several of the otherwise bizarre statements here... Asimong (talk) 05:55, 11 July 2018 (UTC)

Contradictory statements- if it's their observatory, the theses must be theirs. Why would they stock their cabinets with other people's theses? And does anyone know why "Add a comment" is linking to an edit page? Am I supposed to copypaste my address and stuff every time?

The "blinking lights" -- "don't bother trying to catch them". Pretty sure this is a reference to catching fireflies whose "lights" also blink on and off. 15 July 2018

I'm new here, and this is my first edit. I added an explanation of the phrase "Got a thesis out of it", as it seemed that lay people may not be familiar with it. Redbelly98 (talk) 02:13, 16 July 2018 (UTC)

For both comics I REALLY have to question the assertion that this must be Brian Cox, or even male. This character simply appears to be female. But people say the transcript says "he" (I don't know how to check on my own really, and would hesitate to believe a link I was provided, and I'm not sure I could even check the transcript or find my way to it on this old iPad). Fine. But Brian Cox sounds like a stretch. For Randall to be poking fun at him, he'd have to be seeing a bunch of his show. It seems unlikely that American Randall is getting that kind of exposure to a UK show and a UK host. Not impossible, and I see how well this guy lines up, but at the very least this unlikelihood obliterates any certainty. Maybe if these comics were written while Randall was known to be in the UK, that would be one thing. NiceGuy1 (talk) 04:51, 20 July 2018 (UTC)

I'm sure Randall knows of Brian Cox, his show is just the kind of show Randall would enjoy, and in the first comic the hair on the host was much shorter than in this comic. But as can be read in the trivia of the first stargazer comic Randall changed the transcript from he to she somewhere around 2019, for what reason is of course unknown, but this of course changes all the discussion regarding that the host is male. See the updated 1644:_Stargazing#Trivia for 1644: Stargazing. --Kynde (talk) 09:06, 4 March 2020 (UTC)