786: Exoplanets

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Exoplanets
I'm just worried that we'll all leave and you won't get to come along!
Title text: I'm just worried that we'll all leave and you won't get to come along!

[edit] Explanation

Beret Guy runs to wake up Cueball with his potentially middle of the night revelation that Humankind is discovering "exoplanets" or planets that exist outside of our solar system. The indication is that these planets are habitable enough for humans, even if just for a visit.

Then Beret Guy takes it a bit further thinking that one of the countries on Earth could restart Project Orion. As Beret suggests, Project Orion was an early project to come up with a spacecraft that would ride the shockwave from a series of nuclear bombs it dropped in order to travel very, very fast. However, the one major downside of Project Orion was the fallout that the launching of any such craft would present on Earth. One could try to boost the Orion spacecraft into orbit with conventional rockets, but Orion spacecraft are heavy — being composed of giant pusher plates and rows upon rows of nuclear bombs, they are hard to lift. On top of this, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty means that the craft would be flatly illegal to build and launch on Earth, no matter what you did. However, if an asteroid mining project were to be started, the Orion drive spacecraft, the nuclear bombs, and all the infrastructure needed to man, build, and crew it could all be built safely in space, well away from the Earth's fragile biosphere, where little harm could be done. Some commercial spaceflight programs are interested in starting asteroid mining in the future, even now For Example: http://www.planetaryresources.com.

In summary, Beret is very excited that we can see (with the Hubble telescope and other earth-bound telescopes) and find exoplanets. Then with some advances in space technology we can create nuclear propulsion in space to reach these planets, and it will all be happening quite possibly within a few decades. He is thus worried that Cueball will miss all of this ongoing excitement.

Cueball would just rather snooze, as he is not impressed. Beret Guy gives him only one snooze because as is apparent in the title text he is afraid that Cueball will be be left behind if he snoozes too long! Giving the fact that he just stated that it may take hundreds of years this is of course silly, but fits well with Beret Guy's behavior.

Exoplanets have been discovered starting in 1996, but there are still only a few confirmed planet candidates in the habitable zone at a distant star. This did change fast after that time since new ways of finding planets are created — see 1071: Exoplanets, which was posted with the same title. At that point, there were exactly 786 Exoplanets confirmed — the number of this comic - probably not a coincidence when it comes to Randall.

It was the first time Randall released a comic with the exact same name as a previous comic. Since then he has done so a few times. When the next exoplanet comic was released it caused problems on xkcd as the title of the image file were the same for the two comics. This was resolved by renaming this comics image by adding the year 2010 to the title, the year of its released, two years before the next one.

Note: Cueball is never really visible in this comic, and the last image only shows a face. Given that all characters without a beard has the same face, this could have been any character also one with a hat, which could be lying on the bed stand next to the bed... Any hair could be hidden, even for Megan beneath the covers, and gender is not implied by Beret Guy. As it is easier to explain the comic using Cueball's name, and given that he is the usual guy to draw when no features is needed, it still makes sense to call him Cueball in this comic.

[edit] Transcript

[Beret Guy runs into a bedroom arms up calling to someone who is in the bed under the covers. Only part of the bed is visible. The person under the covers speaks. Later part of his face can be seen, and it could be Cueball.]
Beret guy: Wake up! Wake up!
Cueball (under the cover): What is it?
[Beret Guy stands with his arms out talking to Cueball hiding under the covers of the bed now completely inside the panel.]
Beret guy: We're alive during the time when they're first discovering other planetary systems! They're finding them as fast as they can build new instruments to look for them!
[In this frame-less panel only Beret Guy is shown standing with one arm out and one arm up looking left away from the off-panel bed.]
Beret Guy: And if one of Earth's cultures advances its space program enough to start enriching uranium on asteroids, we'll lose the main barrier to restarting Project Orion and building nuke-riding city-ships!
[Beret Guy bends down, hands on his knees, to eye level with Cueball in the bed, who is finally peaking out from the covers, only showing part of his face (so it could be any character, as any hair could be hidden and the hat could be on the bed stand).]
Beret Guy: The only known technology capable of fast interstellar travel could be operational within just a few generations, and we're discovering all these destinations to pick from!
Beret Guy: Come on!
Cueball: Can I hit "snooze"?
Beret Guy: Okay, but just once!


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Discussion

There is no indication that SG:A is the city-ship being referenced. Atlantis does not fly by Orion-drive and is in no way the first Sci-fi reference to City ships. They go back at least as far as "Cities in Flight" by James Blish and possibly further, although I've found no evidence of this. -- 99.111.149.90 (talk) 12:04, 19 January 2013‎ (UTC) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Also note that this comic is no. 786, which is the amount of known exoplanets. -- ‎152.93.147.10 (talk) 09:17, 21 February 2013‎ (UTC) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

But this was released 2 years earlier than that count; still it's interesting factiod... Mark Hurd (talk) 11:07, 13 April 2013 (UTC)

Footfall by Larry Niven is the best example of city-ships in line with Project Orion. Basically the bigger they are the better. Big metal plate with a city on top and nuclear bombs exploding underneath. And the project started in the 50s. [1]--173.245.54.11 04:53, 11 May 2014 (UTC)

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