This cartoon makes fun of conspiracy theories, by suggesting that authorities, like the Navy, could be promoting mysterious explanations for mundane phenomena (such as a weather balloon). UFO is an acronym for an unidentified flying object. This comic is most likely inspired by reports of US Navy pilots seeing unexplained objects. The "History Channel thing" could refer to this upcoming series.
This comic features Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, two fictional FBI agents from the television show The X-Files. In the show, Mulder is usually a believer in all manner of conspiracies and supernatural phenomena, whereas his partner, Scully, is reflexively skeptical of any claims of the paranormal.
A fighter aircraft's head-up display (HUD) projects information about the aircraft and its surroundings on a glass panel in front of the pilot. This allows the pilot to fly and fight without looking down at gauges and panels in the cockpit. When the pilot selects a radar contact to track, information including the angle and range to that contact is displayed on the HUD. The HUD is also overlaid on video recorded by the airplane's on-board camera. Scully has examined the tracking information recorded in one video and concluded that the unidentified object was relatively stationary. Her opinion is that the object is likely a mundane weather balloon, rather than an extraterrestrial craft.
"Maybe the shadowy forces that control the world just want to believe" is an allusion to "I Want to Believe", a phrase from the The X-Files associated with Mulder and his iconic UFO poster.
The title text also contains critique about governments that fail to acknowledge the severity of humanity-induced (anthropogenic) climate change and use their influence to actively hide evidence (such as the current US government that ordered US government agencies to stop or minimize research and reporting on climate change), which even by Mulder's standards seems too crazy for a conspiracy, yet happens in reality.
The government wanting to cover up a balloon to the point of allowing people to think it was aliens supposedly did happen, as documents declassified in the 90's revealed the existence of a top secret project to use high altitude spy balloons to detect evidence of Soviet nuclear tests, known as "Project Mogul." One of these balloons was the source of the debris in the famous Roswell incident. To maintain secrecy, the government claimed it was instead a weather balloon despite this not being quite consistent with the descriptions of the debris, and how they didn't make an effort to properly refute things when 30 years later UFO enthusiasts started claiming it was an alien spaceship (the whole incident was quite obscure and quickly forgotten until someone published some claims about the events decades later, in 1978).
- [Mulder from The X-Files depicted as Hairy sits in his office chair at his desk and points to his computer screen while looking over his shoulder and addressing Scully off-panel, who replies.]
- Mulder: Hey Scully, have you seen these Navy UFO videos?
- Scully (off-panel): Oh, the History Channel thing?
- [In a frame-less panel, Scully walks in from the right towards Mulder, who has turned around in his chair facing towards her (the desk is not included). He is leaning on the back of the chair with one arm. Scully has shoulder length hair, not similar to any of the regular women in xkcd.]
- Scully: I don't know about the other two videos, but in one of them, if you take the angles and ranges on the HUD and do a little geometry, it kind of suggests the object isn't really moving. It just looks like it because the plane's camera is panning.
- [Zoom in on Scully.]
- Scully: The pilots got excited for the same reason we did. Then the media got into it.
- Scully: But I think what they saw was a round, white object floating at 13,000 feet.
- [Zoom out again to shown that Mulder sits straight up in his chair with hands in his lap and the desk with computer behind him. Scully stand in front of him.]
- Mulder: So your theory is that the military claims to have footage of aliens, but you think it's a giant cover-up to hide that it's a weather balloon?
- Scully: Some kind of balloon, yes.
- Mulder: Pretty weird conspiracy.
- Scully: Maybe the shadowy forces that control the world just want to believe, too.
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