2773: Planetary Scientist

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Planetary Scientist
This rumpled fabric at the corner looks like evidence of ongoing tectonic activity.
Title text: This rumpled fabric at the corner looks like evidence of ongoing tectonic activity.


Ponytail, a planetary scientist, is shopping at a mattress store. The store clerk seems to be giving her a guided tour of various models of mattress, including the most popular model shown in the comic.

Ponytail asks if the bed is a waterbed, a type of mattress which is filled with water instead of the usual solid material. The clerk, Cueball, begins to explain to her that it's actually a hybrid made of foam (among other things, maybe water, but it's usually the terminology used for a significantly hi-tech foam/spring combination construction, rather than just the former or the latter with or without minor padding), but Ponytail interrupts him, saying that she believes it actually is a waterbed based on "how it moves."

The comic caption reveals the punchline, that because subsurface oceans have become so ubiquitous in the study of planetary science (especially because they serve as an indicator for the potential for life on another planet), Ponytail is starting to see them everywhere, even in clearly unrelated contexts such as mattresses. Here, the water in the waterbed is analogous to a planet's subsurface ocean (i.e. both being water underneath a solid outer layer). Alternatively, the comic could be commenting on the difficulty of discerning hydroxyl spectra of water absorbed in mineral hydrates from free water in remote detection studies of the Moon, asteroids, the moons of Jupiter and those of other large planets, like Uranus.

The title text goes in a similar direction with planetary science, having Ponytail tell the now-confused clerk that the rumpled fabric on one part of the bed seems like "evidence of ongoing tectonic activity," referencing tectonics and how protruding geographic formations (such as mountains) are formed through it. Again, the punchline is the relentless penetration of Ponytail's occupation into her everyday life. Typically, however, rumpled fabric may be caused by someone pushing the fabric on a bed, or just not making the bed carefully enough, and not 'mattress tectonics' as Ponytail suggests; though this might well be a humorous reference to sexual activity, which often takes place on beds and frequently causes fabric rumpling, as has been previously referenced in xkcd.


[Ponytail is shopping for a mattress and Cueball points with one hand towards a mattress to their left. It lies on a bed with two mattresses on top of each other, there is a price tag on the one on top. To their right is another bed with one mattress also with a price tag. Both price tags have a $ sign on them. There are five wall posters behind them. To their left is one with a picture of a bed with unreadable text above and below. Next to it is a smaller note with three lines of unreadable text. To their right is a poster with a zoom in on a mattress with some item on top of it that looks like a wineglass. There is a line of unreadable text above. Next to that are two slim posters, one has a large word "Sale" on it, but the rest of the text on that and on the one below is unreadable.]
Cueball: And this is one of our most popular models.
Ponytail: Is it a waterbed?
Cueball: No, it's a hybrid foam--
Ponytail: No, look at how it moves. I'm pretty sure it's a waterbed.
[Caption below the panel:]
Planetary scientists are starting to see subsurface oceans everywhere.

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First. 02:14, 8 May 2023 (UTC)

https://xkcd.com/1258/ 02:14, 9 May 2023 (UTC)

The latest edit to this page adds a name for the clerk, "Rumplesoyskin". Is this an in-joke I'm not familiar with, or vandalism? Angel (talk) 11:32, 9 May 2023 (UTC)

If I'm to guess, probably vandalism - especially considering Rumplesoyskin isn't mentioned anywhere else Coreirei (talk) 13:01, 9 May 2023 (UTC)
(Ninjaed by Edit Conflict... However, my reply was...) Vandalism. "Soy" is an insult used by certain types (against some nebulous target group or other), which has commonly cropped up here due to (probably) a single rather pernicious recurring vandal with seemingly nothing better to do than prove their own childishness. Revert what needs to be reverted and move on, if you see that again. 13:04, 9 May 2023 (UTC)

Could this have to do with the fact that planetary scientists can't directly observe the conditions of the exoplanets and are relying on circumstantial eveidence to classify which planets are most likely to have a subsurface ocean? 14:32, 9 May 2023 (UTC)

Not just exoplanets but moons. Images/flux-measurements by Pioneers/Voyagers and then later outer-planet probes keep turning up reasons to believe there may be a subsurface 'ocean' of liquid water (and not just the ones with water-ice surface, where it might be fairly obvious if there's signs of rills in the ice-sheets or even water-geysers that must be fed by something below that's liquid H2O).
If anything, exoplanets are still more in the "exciting if there could be signs of surface liquid" stage, as surface conditions and atmospheric composition are the things being worked out from the orbit/rotation and the spectral signature from its occluding. We're a bit further away from working out that a salty mass of subsurface water is distorting the magneto-electric field its orbit passes through.
But it's a big thing, regardless, to wonder if Pluto has h8dden liquid water, or how much there might be underneath Europa's frozen surface. (Or if there's actually quite a lot more to be found deep beneath the martian surface... or not so deep... as well as as a fraction of its surface ice-caps.) 15:06, 9 May 2023 (UTC)

I think this is related to the recently announced subsurface oceans on Uranus' moons: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/jpl/new-study-of-uranus-large-moons-shows-4-may-hold-water 17:03, 9 May 2023 (UTC)

The reference to "plate tectonics" should be removed. The comic simply says tectonics. "Plate tectonics" is not the only type of tectonics and is not synonymous with "tectonics". For example, Mars and Venus are currently believed to have tectonics but not plate tectonics. Ice worlds could be either/or. 19:26, 12 May 2023 (UTC)

Done. :-) 18:05, 23 January 2024 (UTC)

I don't know how I'd feel about tectonic activity in my bed. I mean, it could be kind of hot, but... 08:55, 25 November 2023 (UTC)

"Did the bed move for you, dear?" 19:00, 25 November 2023 (UTC)