2572: Alien Observers

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Alien Observers
ALERT: Human 910-25J-1Q38 has created a Youtube channel. Increase erratic jerkiness of flying by 30% until safely out of range.
Title text: ALERT: Human 910-25J-1Q38 has created a Youtube channel. Increase erratic jerkiness of flying by 30% until safely out of range.


This depicts a group of aliens observing earth, and discussing their "restricted flight zone", which they appear to change each time a human acquires a more powerful camera. This comic was followed directly by 2573: Alien Mission, where aliens use similar looking flying-saucer type spacecrafts to observe Earth. It is not specifically stated that these two form a series, but the next comic could be seen as a direct follow up to this one, indicating that the aliens are the same in the two comics. Just 7 comics later 2579: Tractor Beam also used similar spacecraft.

Both strips are based on UFO conspiracy theories, which are common in the US and a number of other countries. It is often claimed that Unidentified Flying Objects seen in the sky are, in fact, extraterrestrial space craft, visiting earth for various reasons. Reports of such sightings have existed for a long time, and ever since cameras became widely available, photographs (and later videos) have been produced which are claimed to show such flying vessels. Almost invariably, these images are sufficiently distant, blurry, or otherwise obscured as to make any kind of detailed identification impossible - they could not be Unidentified Flying Objects if it were possible to identify them!

This strip lampoons such ideas by positing that aliens are real, but deliberately maintain a distance such that no clear photographs can be taken. While this concept might seem initially plausible, it doesn't stand up to examination. Over the past several decades, cameras have become far more common, with most of the population of many countries carrying cameras every waking moment (and even sleeping with those same cameras within reach). At the same time, cameras available to the average consumer have dramatically increased in resolution and zooming capabilities. The same shot that resulted in blurry and vague photographs in early digital photography could result in much more detailed images today, and also overcome many of the pitfalls associated with 'analogue' photography without sufficient skill and/or bulky equipment. What's more, the cameras owned by individual consumers have a wide range of resolutions and other capabilities, meaning that an image that would show little detail from one person's camera could result in highly detailed photograph if someone else took a picture. The fact that improving camera technology has not resulted in improved images of these supposed vessels is an impossibly weak point in these conspiracy theories.

The humorous premise of the strip is that these aliens are real, and are monitoring earth, but are taking deliberate actions to keep evidence of their presence ambiguous. To do this, they would need to not only monitor what camera technology exists on earth, but the exact type of camera each individual owns, and maintain their flights right at the outer visual limit of those cameras. Such information would need to be implausibly detailed, and constantly updated, because technology is constantly improving, and people are constantly getting new phones with new cameras. Part of the joke is that the aliens would have to know the visual range of our cameras, but instead of remaining safely outside of it (so that no pictures of their vessels could be taken at all), they stay close enough to be seen, but never close enough for detailed images.

In a broader sense, this strip addresses the same issue as previous strips, such as 718: The Flake Equation and 1235: Settled, in which the phenomenon of UFO sightings/reports is still left not resolved (either way) despite what modern technology should suggest is possible. The suggestion is that this trend either means that sufficiently advanced aliens are deliberately leaving ambiguous evidence of their presence, or that no such alien visitors are here, and the purported evidence is either faked, or misinterpretations of other phenomena. It's pretty clear which explanation Randall favors.

The identifier for the one buying the phone begins with "Human 38XT11". This may be a reference to THX 1138 as this was the title of George Lucas's first film, which is also referenced in the original Star Wars film. The name contains the number in reverse, as well as the letters, if "human" could be written as H. Forty comics earlier, in 2532: Censored Vaccine Card, the number 1138 is also used along with another number referencing Star Wars. The aliens appear to be the same lifeforms as seen in the bottom row of 2359: Evidence of Alien Life, and they also have similarities to the illustration in the what if? article Diamond.

In the title text, the aliens note that one particular human now has a YouTube account, meaning they are likely to record video instead of attempting to capture still images. This means that the alien craft used to create the sighting must behave as erratically as possible, in order to avoid being identified. This relates to the often wildly oscillating (as well as blurry) films and videos of 'UFOs' that have been taken by the impromptu human observer beyond the limit of their ability to hold their fully-zoomed camera steady. Here it is explained as the flying saucers actually moving in an improbably jerky manner to prevent detailed recording of their craft. Further briefings of the sort depicted would doubtless accompany upgrades in optical/digital-stability features or the purchase of a camera tripod.


[Three aliens are looking at a screen. They each have six tentacles, of which four are used as legs, and the other two can be used as arms. They also have a small mouth and two eye stalks with a large eye at the end of each. The eyes has large eyelashes all the way around. One of the aliens is standing to the left of the screen, pointing to it by raising one of its tentacles. The other two aliens stand to the right of the screen looking at the picture. The screen's image depicts a cross-sectional diagram showing two humans in a rough landscape. There is a shaded area above each of the humans and the terrain. The shaded area's boundary consists of arcs of differing sizes centered upon each human. To the left of the first human there is also a small straight area over the ground. To the left of this towards the edge of the screen, what appears to be an arc with a very large radius that begins and rises high up compared to the other two arcs, around a point beyond the on-screen image's edge. The rightmost human's zone has a dashed region between concentric radii of different sizes indicating that this zone has been revised further out than before. Four flying-saucer like spaceships are shown in the air close to, but above, the shaded areas. One high near the left curve, one over the flat area, one near the intersection between the two small arcs and one over the middle of the right arc.]
Left Alien: Human 38XT11-B-C54 just bought a new phone with a 10x zoom, so we have to expand our restricted flight zone by 1,800 meters to keep our ship blurry.
Right Alien 2: Seriously? Didn't they just upgrade?
Left Alien: I know, I know...
[Caption below the panel:]
The hardest part of being an alien observing Earth is keeping track of what cameras everyone has.


This was the seventh comic to come out after the Countdown in header text started.

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This is my first explanation, i know it is really bad but i wanted to give it a goElijahRock (talk) 20:39, 24 January 2022 (UTC)

Great you are helping. Often easier to continue and improve existing explanations rather than start as you did from scratch. Even if most of the original version end up getting changed. I make alot of edits but rarely begin the explanation. --Kynde (talk) 22:01, 24 January 2022 (UTC)
thanks! glad i could be helpful ElijahRock (talk) 16:02, 25 January 2022 (UTC)

I don't think it makes sense to track each human individually, I was under the impression that it was a "before and after" picture. - 22:14, 24 January 2022 (UTC)

I think they both track humans individually, and that this is a (representative) before-and-after picture. They probably have minions/computers/whatever continuously updating the actual flight-boundaries as people move around (and go into camera/phone/cameraphone stores and come out with something new) but this is a 'management briefing' that extraordinarily reports this otherwise mundane development as an individual matter, with a visual aid to make the report sink in. Just going to show how aliens can be both so alien and yet amazingly human in their bureaucratic minutiae. 01:21, 25 January 2022 (UTC)
What I was trying to say is that they don't actually keep track of which phone any random person has (or alter their flight path respectively), it's just a matter of "this is the furthest human technology can go". - 00:28, 26 January 2022 (UTC)
I think they do track everyone's individual capabilities. (They're that good at observation!) That's why they're so specific about what two individuals have done to upgrade their media capabilities. On the other hand, I think the on-screen image is just a representative diagram, rather than real-time/real-geography with real UFO positions - but it depicts the effective alterations of approach distances that this person's now 'toy' has enforced upon these Little Green Voyeurs. 00:46, 26 January 2022 (UTC)

Feels like this is a partial rebuttal of https://www.explainxkcd.com/wiki/index.php/1235:_Settled Boatster (talk) 23:08, 24 January 2022 (UTC)

Didn't see your comment, before, but added this link myself in my own way. 01:21, 25 January 2022 (UTC)
cheers Boatster (talk) 14:21, 26 January 2022 (UTC)

I think that Randall is also referring to the fact that all footage of "UFOs" show them flying erratically. This being due to the fact that this is the way refraction works. Sorry for the bad English, not sure how to explain it :) EDIT: It could also refer to the fact that a lot of people still believe in UFOs even though this is a well-known phenomenon that is known to be the cause of a lot of these sightings. As I said below though most of these kind of sightings are reported by pilots flying at high altitudes, so now I'm not sure...-- The Cat Lady (talk) 23:18, 24 January 2022 (UTC)

(Ditto above, didn't see this before starting editing, but...) I put it down to zoom-wobble in what I just inserted. Though didn't say that this is just normal (acceptable) hand-wobble augmented by the zoom needed to frame the distant whateveritis. Yes, rapidly changing refraction through moving air is probably also a thing (usually heat haze during the day, or the subtler stuff that astronomical telescopes have to deal with at night with lasers and adaptive optics and/or electronic post-processing) but I'm happy to leave it at zoom-wobble without going back and adding your suggestion. Do edit it if you feel like it, though, that being how this site works. 01:21, 25 January 2022 (UTC)
The zoom-wobble is a great explanation! I didn't think of that at all :P However, there's lots of footage that exists from non-zoomed, fixed cameras like security cameras and 8 mm film cameras on tripods, which sort of obviates that explanation. But also, I did a quick search for footage like that and it looks nothing like refraction phenoma (at least the examples I could find) so my explanation isn't quite correct either. I think those kind of sightings are mostly reported by pilots at high altitudes, as those are more likely conditions for this to happen. I'm still leaning more towards my explanation than yours for now though:) I'm going to leave this here for now and wait for more discussion before I change anything -- The Cat Lady (talk) 08:53, 25 January 2022 (UTC)

Zoom is a misnomer for the lens setups modern phones come with. As an example, the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra does not have any zoom - it has three distinct cameras, each with their own prime lens. You can switch between the cameras, but this is not zooming. Paul-Simon (talk) 13:13, 25 January 2022 (UTC)

I have added that "Human 38XT11" is a reference to THX 1138... anyone who can spot something similar with Human 910-25J-1Q38 or B-C54? --Kynde (talk) 13:42, 25 January 2022 (UTC)

1Q38 can be seen as the 1st quarter of 2038, also known as Epochalypse. 11:32, 26 January 2022 (UTC)
1Q84 is the title of a novel by Haruki Murakami. The meaning of the title is the year 1984, since 9 in Japanese is kyū. So perhaps 1Q38 is code for 1938? Entropy (talk) 14:05, 25 January 2022 (UTC)
Can't they just be random numbers that Randall decided to use? Why does everything need to be a reference to something? 18:43, 25 January 2022 (UTC)
people like to see patterns even if there are noneNew editor (talk) 21:27, 25 January 2022 (UTC)
If Randall had chosen them randomly, they'd both have ended up as "4444-4444-4444-4444"... ;) 20:44, 25 January 2022 (UTC)
I agree that some of the numbers may have been chosen randomly. But with Randall, being fan of Starwars, and often putting in funny references, I cannot imagine he would manage to put in the letters from THX1138 numbers in the first part of the first humans code, by a random coincidence, it is just too unlikely. But that doesn't mean the other numbers need to reference anything. --Kynde (talk) 17:41, 27 January 2022 (UTC)

I don't get why starting a YouTube-channel should have any impact on flying patterns because it's the filming and not the publishing that is the problem. The videos shown on that particular channel can be years old so the erratic flight behavior should take place as soon as a human has the capability to shoot a video rather than publish it. Kimmerin (talk) 08:25, 26 January 2022 (UTC)

Maybe the aliens is not that bright, just good at technology, I still don't get the lines spoken by the other alien and the reply to that. It makes no sense to me. As with the title text. Agree that it makes no difference to have a channel. --Kynde (talk) 17:42, 27 January 2022 (UTC)
I disagree - aliens in popular media *constantly* present themselves to only one or a small number of people, with the expectation that those people will not further reveal their presence on earth (or even with the deliberate intention of making them appear foolish to others!). L-Space Traveler (talk) 16:45, 7 November 2023 (UTC)

These aliens need to do a better job of tracking human technology. One camera, the Nikon P900 has an optical zoom ratio of 83x and a digital zoom of 166x. They should have made flight compensations immediately upon its product announcement back in 2015. Or at least upon its consumer rollout in 2017, not after the fact. These Are Not The Comments You Are Looking For (talk) 04:29, 30 January 2022 (UTC)

Maybe the UFO pictures are blurry because the UFOs themselves are, well, fuzzy. Though what benefit could be had by making a spacecraft covered in wool, with density dropping with distance from the hull, is beyond me. 14:59, 14 February 2024 (UTC)

Insulation. It's very cold, in space (or very hot, depending on if the nearest star is shining on one side from close enough). And possibly they have to enter the atmosphere just like our craft have to re-enter it. It'd be unobtanium wool, of course! 17:10, 14 February 2024 (UTC)