809: Los Alamos

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Revision as of 19:21, 12 December 2012

Los Alamos
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.
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 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.

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: sin = opposite over hypotenuse, cos = adjacent over hypotenuse, and tan = oposite 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.)

"Now I am become Death, destroyer of worlds." -- Robert Oppenheimer (Lead scientist on bomb project, quoting Hindu scripture after the successful test)


[Three stick figures stand in front of a few graphs and scientific looking pictures. One of them has hair.]
Los Alamos, 1945...
Middle Figure: We have a decision. If we've done our math right, this test will unleash heaven's fire and make us as gods.
Middle figure: But it's possible we made a mistake, and the heat will ignite the atmosphere, destroying the planet in a cleansing conflagration.
Left figure: Wow. Um. Question: Just to double-check - although I'm 99% sure -
Left figure: Is it "SOH CAH TOA" or "COH SAH TOA"?
Middle figure: Oh, for the love of... can someone redo Steve's work?
Right figure: I don't want to do the test anymore.
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