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Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Earth Orbital Diagram
You shouldn't look directly at a partial eclipse because of the damage that can be caused by improperly aligning the solar-lunar orbital plane with the orbital bones around your eye.
Title text: You shouldn't look directly at a partial eclipse because of the damage that can be caused by improperly aligning the solar-lunar orbital plane with the orbital bones around your eye.

Explanation

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

This comic is the third consecutive comic with solar eclipse as the subject, all three published in the week before the solar eclipse occurring the Monday after, August 21, 2017 which is a total solar eclipse and visible in totality within a band across the contiguous United States from west to east. The other comics are 1876: Eclipse Searches and 1877: Eclipse Science.

The comic claims that the reason that eclipses don't happen every month is simple to understand by looking at an orbital diagram. Ironically, the cartoon has so many parts and labels that it is far more difficult to understand than is implied. While the graph itself is based on astronomical definitions all the labels are nonsense in this context.

All these labels are complicated words, some are somewhat related to orbital mechanics ("equinox", "perihelion") while some are just Latin-sounding nouns. Moreover, many of the labels provided are kludged, obfuscated, or simply made up. Compare/contrast with the standard Kepler Orbit diagram. Most easily recognizable are the "Dimples of Venus," referring to axis-intersection points in the diagram on Earth.

The title text refers to 'orbit' also being the anatomical term for the eye socket.

All the labels and their astronomical meanings in detail:

Arctangent
  • Arctangent is the inverse function of the tangent function of trigonometry. You can determine a non-right angle of a right triangle by taking the arctangent of the length of the opposite side divided by the length of the adjacent side.
  • The angle shown in the comic has no astronomical meaning.
Astral plane
  • The Astral plane is a plane of existence in various esoteric theories. Also used in fictional fantasy context.
  • The picture shows the lunar orbital plane, the plane in which the Moon orbits the Earth, tilted about 5.1 degrees from the ecliptic.
Declension
  • Declension is the inflection of nouns in a language.
  • In astronomy the declination| is one of the two angles that locate a point on the celestial sphere in the equatorial coordinate system. It is measured north or south of the celestial equator, like the geographical latitude on Earth.
Dimples of Venus
  • The Dimples of Venus are indentations sometimes visible on the human lower back.
  • In astronomy the Belt of Venus is a shadow cast by the Earth visible in its atmosphere.


Word used in the comics Meaning of word used Actual astronomical term Meaning of actual term
Enceliopsis Small genus of flowering plants in the daisy family, appropriately known as "sunrays" Ecliptic The plane in which the Sun appears to orbit around the Earth - and, accordingly, the plane in which the Earth orbits around the Sun


Equinox The two instants in the year when the Sun is exactly over the equator; the length of day and night are very nearly equal that day, and it is the first day of spring or the first day of autumn. This happens only twice a year because the rotation axis of the Earth is tilted (at 23.5 degrees) from its orbital plane about the Sun. The mention of the word "solstice" (which has a much different meaning than "equinox") is a reference to 1677: Contrails.


Hypothecate A legal verb that means something similar to "make a mortgage" Hypotenuse The longest side of a right triangle, opposite the right angle


Obsequity The state of being obsequious (showing a willingness to obey or serve) Obliquity Axial tilt
Perihelix Portmanteau of helix and perihelion Perihelion The point in a solar orbit that is closest to the Sun
Prolapse A medical condition in which an internal organ is slipped forward or down


Sagittal plane Anatomical plane, dividing the body in left and right Ecliptic plane and Sagittarius The plane of the Earth's orbit about the Sun, and a constellation in the Zodiac


Solar plexus Network of nerves located in the abdomen. Solar An adjective referring to the Sun, the star in our solar system.


Solstice A person who is lonely, but who is loved by all Solstice The instants in the year when the sun's angle is maximally far from Earth's equator; when one occurs, the length of the day or night is shortest or longest (depending on whether one is in the northern or southern hemisphere), and it marks the first day of summer or winter. Solstices occur because the Earth's rotation axis is tilted (at 23.5 degrees) from its orbital plane about the Sun.


Tropopause The boundary in our atmosphere between the troposphere and stratosphere, defined as the boundary where air ceases to cool with increasing elevation. It is 9-17 km above sea level, not the thousands of kilometers as depicted here.

Explanation for "Why isn't there a (solar) eclipse every month?"

If the plane of where the Earth orbits the Sun and where the Moon orbits the Earth were completely aligned, then there would be a solar eclipse at every new moon (once every 29.5 days) and a lunar eclipse at every full moon (half a lunar period about 14.7 days after a New Moon). However, the plane in which the Moon orbits the Earth is tilted with an inclination of 5 degrees relative to that of the ecliptic plane (the plane defined by the Earth's orbit around the Sun). Eclipses are only possible during two eclipse seasons each year (half a year apart) where for a period of 31 to 37 days the Sun is nearly aligned with the two points in the tilted Earth-Moon plane where the Moon crosses the ecliptic plane. During an eclipse season at the time of a new moon there will be solar eclipses visible from certain locations and during full moons there will be lunar eclipses.

Eclipse Diagram.jpg

The real explanation of eclipses is evident from this xkcd comic, but is labeled with a fictional character similar to a Greek phi but with two vertical lines; the remaining labels also do not contribute to this explanation and exist only to distract or misinform the reader.

Transcript

Ambox notice.png This transcript is incomplete. Please help editing it! Thanks.
[An orbital map of the Earth is shown. The Sun is in the center, the Earth is at the right bottom, and the Moon is left below the Earth.]
Why isn't there an eclipse every month?
This is a common question! The answer is made clear by a quick look at the Earth's orbital diagram:
[Label Sun:]
Solar plexus
[Label on the Earth's plane:]
Sagittal plane
[Labels on Earth's orbit (beginning at the Earth counterclockwise):]
Perihelix, Declension, Obsequity, Hypothecate, Enceliopsis, Equinox (Solstice in British English)
[Two angles in the plane are labeled as:]
Determinant of the date of Easter, Arctangent
[The plane of the Moon is pictured in a small angle to the Earth's plane and named Astral Plane. The angle is presented between two lines (Greek Nu or Gamma and a double Greek Chi) and identified by a character that looks similar to a Greek Phi but with two vertical lines.]
[The labels at the Moon's path are:]
Tropopause, Prolapse, Errata.
[An arrow points to the Earth at the zero meridian on the equator. The label reads:]
Dimples of Venus


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