2310: Great Attractor
Title text: Living in the southern hemisphere was nice because I could jump extra high, but I like it here too. Besides, if I ever want to move back, I can just curl up in a ball and wait!
Cueball comments on the fact that as summer approaches, the sun rises earlier and sets later, a common topic of conversation, especially to complain that it is still light at times of day where you are used to it being dark out. Beret Guy comments that he fell off of the wall this morning, a seemingly unconnected topic.
People will often complain about falling out of bed as an indicator of having slept badly. The later sunset is often linked to worsened sleep . However, Beret Guy didn't fall from the bed, he fell from the wall. While being able to figure out he's talking about his worsened sleep, Cueball is understandably confused, so Beret Guy clarifies.
Beret Guy is strongly affected by the Great Attractor, a large gravitational anomaly that influences the galaxies near it, but is difficult to observe directly. Beret Guy claims that the Great Attractor pulls on him unusually hard, which could be another one of his strange powers. This attraction, while not overpowering the gravity of the Earth, (he states in the title text that he can "Jump extra high" when it is above him) affects his life greatly.
For Beret Guy his attraction to the Great Attractor means that, at various times, like now, he can lie on the vertical surface of any wall (external or internal) that is currently oriented in a fortuitous direction (i.e. facing north). He fell off the wall this morning due the Great Attractor being below him during daylight hours and on the horizon during night hours. Thus, Beret Guy's complaint in the first panel comes across as an attempted solidarity with Cueball's complaint; he was still asleep when the Great Attractor moved to below him, causing him to fall off the wall and presumably awaken him. Although the location of the Great Attractor should not be linked directly to daylight here on Earth, it may simply be that Beret Guy's sleep patterns have been disrupted by the later sunset and early sunrise.
He gives a short explanation of which Attractor he refers to (the space one) and why the Great Attractor affects him. According to his doctors it is apparently caused by the motion of galaxies and how many dimensions his bones have. Since having fewer than 3 spatial dimensions may lead to trouble, his bones may be existing in more dimensions than our normal 3 dimensions of space and 1 of time. Galactic motions normally have no significant effect on a person with 3-D bones.
Beret Guy then says that day-sliding season is near, due to the Great Attractor being at the horizon in the day, and offers to run errands for Cueball in the South, implying that he will be pulled towards the south during day-sliding season, and can run much faster in that direction.
Beret Guy is not standing straight up during this comic, he has one knee slightly bent towards Cueball in the first two panels. This is because it is evening (8:00 PM as Cueball states) and the Great Attractor is now coming near the horizon, where it will be during the night. So Beret Guy will be pulled towards the south, behind him in the comic, and thus leans away from the pull. In the final panel, when he leaves Cueball, moving right towards south and into the pull, he can be seen sliding along the ground without walking. He leans a bit back to not stumble forward. His last sentence also indicates that he either speeds up or that he is a little uncertain on his feet altering his voice.
He mentions that at the moment during day-time the Great Attractor is beneath him so he can stand straight. He then just feels a little heavier (he will thus weigh more than another person with the same mass).
In the title text he says he liked living in the south because the Great Attractor was often above him, meaning he could jump higher with the help of its pull (and would weigh less than a normal person with same mass). Since he could jump, the force is clearly weaker than Earth's gravity, but still enough for him to easily slide over the ground when it is near the horizon. So he could likely win some high-jump or long-jump competitions if he chose the right time and place.
Being Beret Guy, he is never really unhappy, so he states that he also likes it here (in the north). But then he continues to comment on how easy it will be for him to get to the south. Because if he entirely stopped bracing himself against the pull by crouching into a more spherical shape, and just waited for the Great Attractor to get near the horizon again, then the pull would cause him to start rolling over the ground to some place with lower net gravitational potential, i.e. further south, where the Great Attractor will be more directly over his head.
A prior example of an xkcd character with alternate gravitational susceptibility is 417: The Man Who Fell Sideways, where a consistent off-vertical pull somehow applies (rather than one linked to a spot on the stellar sphere). In 1376: Jump Cueball floats sideways across the ground a bit above Earth, in a similar idea to being pulled sideways.
Beret Guy has previously been interested in strange attracting forces in the universe, in 502: Dark Flow, where he hoped it was his mom and wished she would pull on him. It was though not about the Great Attractor, and the force did not clearly affect him, although his love for his mom did affect two space probes, as mentioned in the title text.
This comic came out just a bit more than a month before the next comic with one of Beret Guy's strange powers, 2325: Endorheic Basin. Which is interesting since the previous comic with such a power came back in November 2017, 1922: Interferometry, more than 2.5 years before this one. Also in the Endorheic Basin comic strange forces exerted a pull on Beret Guy, although in that it was he who attracted water, where here it was himself that was most affected.
Some of the humor of the comic has to do with the immense differences in scale between Beret Guy and the Great Attractor.
In very round numbers our own Milky Way galaxy is 150,000 - 200,000 light years across. It is just one of several galaxies in something called the Local Group, which is around 10,000,000 light years across. And the Local Group is itself in something called the Local Supercluster (also called the Virgo Supercluster), around 110,000,000 light years across. Each galaxy, each group, and each supercluster is not just a chance alignment, but is a gravitational coherent structure. And all this is just yet a part of the even larger Laniakea Supercluster in which also the Great Attractor is located, along with more than 100,000 other galaxies, in a region of space spanning more than 500 million light years.
Something unpredictable (hence "anomalous") is going on with the galaxies in the Local Supercluster (including our own). These galaxies are indeed accelerating away from one another as seen by their red shift. Hubble's Law predicts the expansion should be uniformly proportional to their distance from Earth and from one another. But for the Local Supercluster something is restricting the expansion. That something is, as "viewed" from Earth, somewhere in the direction of the Southern Triangle constellation but 250,000,000 light years distant, and has (but only since 1988) been termed the Great Attractor. The Great Attractor can't conveniently be seen at visible wavelengths, because that direction is the so-called Zone of Avoidance: the area of the night sky obscured by our own Milky Way.
Boiling this all down: something a quarter of a billion light years away that makes an anomalous blip in the local rate of expansion of the universe, and whose existence astronomers deduce only by X-ray observations of stellar red-shift, has large-scale effects on everyday gravitational forces uniquely experienced by Beret Guy. OK, now you can smile.
- [Cueball and Beret Guy stand next to each other, talking. Beret Guy leans towards Cueball by bending down one knee.]
- Cueball: I can't believe it's still light out. It's 8:00 PM!
- Beret Guy: Seriously! This morning I fell off the wall.
- [In a frame-less panel with the same setting Beret Guy is looking and pointing to the right.]
- Cueball: Wait, why were you sleeping on the wall?
- Beret Guy: The Great Attractor is near the horizon at night right now.
- [Zoom in on Beret Guy, who hold one hand palm up towards Cueball who is speaking to him off-panel.]
- Cueball (off-panel): The Great Attractor?
- Beret Guy: Yeah! The space one.
- Beret Guy: It pulls on me extra hard. Doctors said it's something to do with galactic motion and how many dimensions my bones have.
- [Cueball is still standing as Beret Guy slides away to the right, while looking and leaning back towards Cueball. He holds his arms slightly out, to keep his balance. Lines behind him and at his feet indicates his motion, even if he is clearly not walking. In his last word the letters becomes italic after Good and the last three Ts becomes smaller and smaller than the previous letters.]
- Beret Guy: This time of year, it's below us all day, so I stand vertically. But day-sliding season is near!
- Beret Guy: Let me know if you have any errands to run to the south!
- Beret Guy: Goodniiighttt
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