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Revision as of 23:19, 6 January 2014

Welcome to the explain xkcd wiki!
We have an explanation for all 1 xkcd comics, and only 34 (2%) are incomplete. Help us finish them!

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ISS Solar Transit 2
Most people don't realize it, but they actually launch a new space station every few weeks because this keeps happening.
Title text: Most people don't realize it, but they actually launch a new space station every few weeks because this keeps happening.

Explanation

Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: Please change this comment when editing this page. Do NOT delete this tag too soon.

This comic is a continuation to 1828: ISS Solar Transit, where Cueball is trying to capture the transit of International Space Station across the Sun. However, instead of transiting across the face of the sun, the ISS crashes into the Sun.

In reality, of course, this can never happen, because the ISS orbits Earth at an altitude of between 330 and 435 km, while the Earth orbits the Sun at an altitude of about 149.60 million kilometers or 1 astronomical unit. This means the minimum distance between the ISS and the Sun is only slightly less than 1 AU. Also, due to parallax, only people in a very localized region on earth are able to see the ISS "hit" the sun. For all others the ISS would travel past the sun.

Additionally, even if the ISS would somehow impact the sun, it would not make a noticeable splash, due to being incredibly tiny compared to the sun. It would get vaporized before reaching it (see What if? 89: Tungsten Countertop). And it would make no "Fwoosh" sound hearable from Earth, primarily because there's a lot of empty space between Earth and the Sun, and sound cannot propagate in empty space.

The title text plays on this saying that a new space station is being launched every week as the old one gets destroyed by crashing into the Sun. This is clearly implausible, as the costs (of lives and money) would be astronomical[citation needed].

Perhaps also a joke on Pink Floyd's "Set the controls for the heart of the sun"?

Transcript

[Every panel is split into two half height panels above each other.]
[The top panel shows an image of an orange sun on a black background with a dot marked ISS in a cross-hair and a trail.]
[In the bottom panel Cueball is kneeling in front of a small platform while operating a camera with a very long objective while holding a smartphone. The camera is angled sharply upward toward the sky as it is attached to a tripod standing on the platform.]
Cueball: Perfect! Transit in three... two...
[The dot marked as ISS moves closer to the sun]
Cueball: ...one...
[The dot plunges into the sun]
FWOOSH

Trivia

The ISS travels across the face of the sun in 0.47 seconds (calculation). If we assume that Cueball is counting seconds, then the depicted speed of the ISS between panels 1 and 2 is too slow.


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