809: Los Alamos
Title text: The test didn't (spoiler alert) destroy the world, but the fact that they were even doing those calculations makes theirs the coolest jobs ever.
This comic refers to the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos, New Mexico, where in 1945 their development of the first nuclear weapon had progressed to the point that they were going to explode "The Gadget" at Trinity Site. There was genuine concern that some unexpected result was possible, including the scenario about the atmosphere igniting. The scientists were almost certain that it would either work as expected, or just be a dud, but were unable to rule out several other scenarios. The test proceeded, and it worked as expected. (Today Manhattan Project is used about such a big endeavor see for instance 1736: Manhattan Project).
The joke part at the end is a reference to a common mnemonic device for basic trigonometric functions, namely identifying the relationships of sine, cosine, and tangent with respect to the lengths of a right triangle's edges: sine = opposite over hypotenuse, cosine = adjacent over hypotenuse, and tangent = opposite over adjacent (in other words, SOH CAH TOA.) "Steve" becomes concerned by the seriousness of the situation, and wants to make sure that he has not made a mistake on stuff that should be very elementary to a scientist in his position. (Steve is probably not a reference to any specific scientist in the real life Manhattan Project, see below).
"Now I am become Death, destroyer of worlds." – Robert Oppenheimer, Lead scientist on bomb project, quoting Hindu scripture after the successful test. There are very few jobs where one can say that with seriousness, as pointed out in the title text.
A Steve is referred to in a similar situation in comic 1532: New Horizons, where his miscalculations screw up the trajectory of the New Horizons space probe, sending it to Earth instead of Pluto. He would be at least 90 years old if it was to be the same Steve though. A person named Steve also comes up with an inappropriate suggestion in 1672: Women on 20s.
- [Cueball raising a hand points to Steve (see later) drawn as another shorter Cueball-like guy, and behind Cueball stand Hairy also looking at Steve. Partly behind Steve's head is a piece of paper on the wall with a circle around a central dot and four arrows pointing in towards the circle from each corner of the paper. Behind Hairy's head is another paper with a graph that looks like a positive third degree polynomial with three non-zero solutions. Between Cueball and Hairy at the level of their hands is a small square with two small dots at the two top corners. Seems like a part of the wall rather than a paper. During the next images the two on either side of Cueball moves their head in front or away from these papers so at least once the hole drawing can be seen. Over the panels top frame there is a frame with a caption:]
- Los Alamos, 1945...
- Cueball: We have a decision. If we've done our math right, this test will unleash heaven's fire and make us as gods.
- [Cueball turns towards Hairy holding his arms out.]
- Cueball: But it's possible we made a mistake, and the heat will ignite the atmosphere, destroying the planet in a cleansing conflagration.
- [In a frame-less panel Steven takes a hand to his chin, while the other two turns towards him.]
- Steve: Wow. Um. Question: Just to double-check— although I'm 99% sure—
- [Cueball, still facing Steve, face-palms himself while Hairy turns away from Steve.]
- Steve: Is it "SOH CAH TOA" or "COH SAH TOA"?
- Cueball: Oh, for the love of... can someone redo Steve's work?
- Hairy: I don't want to do the test anymore.
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