2240: Timeline of the Universe

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Timeline of the Universe
Not actual size, except technically at one spot near the left.
Title text: Not actual size, except technically at one spot near the left.

Explanation[edit]

This comic is about the size of the visible universe, presented as a timeline in a way typical of representations of the timeline of epochs in cosmology.

Some events it describes, including the Big Bang and Inflation are real, but others are jokes, including the Medium Bang and Settling. The size history of the visible universe is also embellished for the sake of jokes; the actual size history of the universe has one period referred to as Inflation, which occurred shortly after the Big Bang, followed by comparatively gentle but accelerating expansion. This is artistically depicted in this image from NASA. Part of the humor in this comic comes from the fact that the varied rate of change in expansion is not yet fully understood, with explanations of events leading to this change including theories such as "dark matter" and "dark energy" (this might therefore be construed as "dark humour"). At the end of the drawing four possible continuations of the timeline are suggested, with director J. J. Abrams listed as the deciding factor between them, stating that all future cosmological development has been handed over to him. Abrams directed the Star Trek movie entitled Star Trek, which established additional alternate timelines for Star Trek, so it may be implied that multiple timelines could result from direction by Abrams in the future. Notably, each Star Trek series has included multiple interacting timelines. For information about each of the events shown in this comic's Timeline of the Universe, see detailed explanations in the section Events on the Timeline of the Universe below.

The title text is a variation of one of Randall's standard jokes that his drawings are Not actual size; in the case of this comic there is technically one spot near the left where the drawing depicts the actual relative size of the universe at the time the drawing represents. Where his drawing begins, at the time when the universe began, per definition, our visible universe had no measurable size. Very soon (within a tiny fraction of an attosecond) after the universe as we know it began, the inflation period blew it up very very fast and then it continued to expand until present day. So at some "time" after the big bang, our visible universe would have had a size (i.e. diameter) that would be the same as any thickness of Randall's universe "line". Since the universe as depicted in the comic goes from infinitesimal size at the moment of the Big Bang to the full size of the universe today, at some point near the left there will be a point where Randall's representation would have the same size as the universe at the correct "time period". Of course a problem with this is that there was only a very very short time period after inflation where the diameter of the observable universe is on the same scale as this comic, and that point is neither indicated nor likely to be accurate in relation to the duration of time elapsed. According to an answer given here regarding the size of the visible universe after inflation, there is reason to believe that the size was still less than 1 mm in diameter when the stage of expansion known as Inflation ended, which is less than the thickness of the line shown at the Big Bang (depending on the screen size the comic is viewed upon); So the point along the timeline where the size of our visible universe matched the line width appears after the Inflation period is thought to have ended. Since Randall includes the Medium Bang before Inflation on his drawing he has already inserted a mistake there, but as the next three epochs after Inflation are real epochs, it is likely somewhere in this part of the drawing that the visible universe would have had the same diameter as the thickness of the drawing at a relevant time epoch on the drawing. This will thus not be that far to the left but around the Quark epoch.

Events on the Timeline of the Universe[edit]

The events presented in the timeline are:

  • ?? (more than 13.8 billion years ago (Gya)): the unknown state of the universe prior to the Big Bang, if such a statement is even sensible. There are theories that our Universe is a bubble where inflation stopped (13.8 billion years ago in this universe) in an infinite and eternally inflating larger universe, which would give rise to the possibility of a multiverse with many bubble universes like ours where inflation has stopped. See for instance this recent video on the subject: How Many Universes Are There? from PBS Space Time. If this is true, the universe did not start at the big bang, but our part of the infinite universe actually began when the inflation period stopped, and not at the Big Bang.
  • Big Bang (13.8 Gya): The model of the origin of the universe which has achieved consensus among astronomers. We have observed that all galaxies are receding away from Earth at rates that are roughly proportional to their distance, and the simplest explanation for this is that the universe is expanding. If the universe is expanding, then (unless new physics are discovered) it must have at one time been very, very small and dense; that moment in time is called the Big Bang.
  • Planck Epoch: The time period starting from the Big Bang, the Planck epoch or Planck era is the earliest stage of expansion currently calculable, before the time passed was equal to the Planck time (tP, or approximately 10^-43 seconds). There is no currently available physical theory to describe such short times, and it is not clear in what sense the concept of time is meaningful for values smaller than the Planck time.
  • Medium Bang (a joke): If there's a Big Bang, why not have a medium one? There should probably also be a Little Bang, but maybe it's just too little to be featured on this chart.
  • Inflation (10^-36 to 10^-32 seconds after the Big Bang): A theory developed to explain the large-scale structure of the universe that postulates a period when the universe expanded very much faster than the speed of light. (The universe still expands faster than the speed of light, but only 2-3 times as fast. The limit of the speed c, is only valid for things moving in space time, not for the stretching of space itself!)
  • Quark Epoch (10^-12 seconds after the Big Bang): The universe is a quark-gluon plasma, up until 10^-6 seconds when it cools enough to coalesce into hadrons, including protons and neutrons.
  • Lepton Epoch (1 second after the Big Bang): Leptons, including electrons, and their associated neutrinos dominate.
  • Photon Epoch (10 seconds after the Big Bang): The universe is dominated by photons.
  • Cool Bug Epoch (a joke): There was a period around 10-17 million years after the Big Bang in which the cosmic background radiation was between 273 and 373 K, the temperature range for liquid water, but as oxygen had not yet been formed, as stars were not yet there to create it, there would have been no water. Cosmologists have speculated that primitive life could have arisen during this period and dubbed it the 'Habitable Epoch of the Early Universe', although it's unclear how this life would have formed since there was basically only hydrogen and helium atoms in the universe until the first Super Nova explosions some 100 million years later. Possibly this is the epoch in which the "cool red beetle" which Beret Guy added to his company's bug tracker (see 1493: Meeting), or the "friendly bug" he wanted to show to a conference speaker (see 2191: Conference Question), evolved.
  • Molded grip (a joke): Some tools (e.g. knives) have molded finger-wells so that the user's hand settles easily and securely into a comfortable position. This epoch of the universe features repeated expansions and contractions so that this part of the timeline resembles a molded grip, at least in profile (it would be much too large to be held by any known animal's hands[citation needed], and the finger-wells are distributed over time as well as space).
  • Stars form (100 million years after the Big Bang): The universe cools enough to allow ordinary matter particles to group into stars.
  • Stagflation (a joke): In addition to cosmic inflation, inflation can also refer to the economic phenomenon in which prices increase over time. Stagflation is combination of the terms "stagnation" and "inflation", and refers to a situation in which monetary inflation is high, economic growth is slow, and job creation is low. This epoch of the universe shows the universe beginning to contract in size, much as economists would talk about an economy contracting.
  • Settling (a joke): Thanks to government intervention and quantitative easing of the cosmological constant, or perhaps the judicious use of the Universe Control Panel, the contraction of the universe has halted. Alternately this may be a comparison to how in a package full of smaller items, the contents can "settle" over time so the empty space in between them is more filled in so it takes up less space overall leaving open space at the top (like how a cereal box may say "some settling may occur during shipment" to explain why the box doesn't seem completely full), and is thus claiming that somehow something similar to that decreased the size of the universe.
  • Rebound (a joke): Consumer confidence has returned to the universe and it has begun expanding again. Alternatively, Settling and Rebound could be a reference to crustal rebound as the mere Earth occasionally shrinks and re-expands its surface. After all, Plate Tectonics games are fun when they are played in Real Time.
  • Someone tripped and accidentally hit the "Inflation" switch again (a joke). This switch must be on the Universe Control panel referenced both in 1620: Christmas Settings and in 1763: Catcalling.
  • Emergency Stop triggered (a joke). Also on the Universe Control panel see previous entry.
  • Galaxies form (12.8 Gya)
  • Earth forms (4.5 Gya)
  • Present day
  • Future cosmological development handed over to J.J. Abrams, outcome unknown (a joke): J.J. Abrams is a science-fiction writer and filmmaker. If he were in charge of the future development of the cosmos, he might decide to subject all of us to some strange plot twist. Among many other movies, he has directed the 2009 reboot of Star Trek, in which the "future history" of Star Trek is altered from the timeline of the original series by Nero and Spock traveling backwards in time. He also has directed other "Star" films, including Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (released a few weeks after the publishing of this comic) which altered the direction of Star Wars canon away from the post-film future laid out in the Expanded Universe publications. He is also involved in the Mission: Impossible films.
    • The dashed lines coming off the end of the timeline represent the possible fates of the universe:
      • The one curving in represents that the universe could stop expanding and begin contracting, resulting in the Big Crunch. In our universe, cosmological measurements have shown that the expansion of the universe is accelerating, so the Big Crunch is considered to be the least likely fate.
      • The second curve continuing the trend from before represents that the universe could settle into thermal equilibrium, which would leave no energy available for any interesting phenomena to occur. This is called the heat death of the universe or "Big Freeze".
      • The fourth curve represents that the universe's expansion will continue accelerating, eventually very rapidly, to the point that the accelerating expansion overcomes all forces between particles, turning the universe into a collection of particles isolated from each other by rapidly-expanding space. This is called the Big Rip.
      • In between the second and fourth curve there seems to be something in between where the universe expansion accelerates and then slows down again. We have so far seen the expansion rate decelerate in the early life of the universe where the gravity of the more compact universe slowed the expansion, but then this turned around to an acceleration after about 9 billion years as the distance between galaxy clusters became so large that dark energy became the dominant force, causing the universe expansion to accelerate. So who knows if this could change again... At present our understanding says that the universe expansion-rate will keep accelerating. But left to J. J. Abrams, then the outcome is unknown. These four options represents both what we have theories for and what J. J. might come up with.

Transcript[edit]

[A large header is above the main drawing:]
Timeline of the Universe
[The drawing shows a diagram of the evolution of the universe from the Big Bang (left) to the present right with lines indicating possible futures continuing right of the main drawing. The drawing is that of a black horn of plenty, very thin to the left and then it becomes broader, mainly in steps but also slightly between each step. n a few places the diameter decreases a bit. Along the "tube" are segments divided with thin white lines, with about equal distance between them. The first 20 the tube is black, but then stars form, shown as many white dots, and finally in the last 3-4 segments galaxies are shown. At the top and bottom of the opening to the right there are four dashed lines which behaves the same way. Two points inward, two continue the trend from before they begin, two goes out fast again, and then falls back to slow increase, and two goes almost straight up and down. At the far left there is a line going in to a small dot. On the line before the dot are two questions mark. A line points to the dot which has a starburst around it. It represents the Big Bang. After this firs labeled point on the drawing there are mange other labeled sections with a line going from the label to a segment on the drawing. There are 9 above, 9 below and one at each end. The one at the right end pointing to the four dashed future lines at the top. From left to right in the order they are labeled on the timeline, the labels are:]
??
Big Bang
[The Universe comes in as a circle with action lines around it. It stays the same size for a while.]
Planck Epoch
Medium Bang
[The Universe starts inflating very slowly]
Inflation
[The Universe briefly inflates very rapidly, and returns to its normal rate of expansion.]
Quark Epoch
Lepton Epoch
Photon Epoch
Cool Bug Epoch
[The Universe starts inflating and deflating rapidly, forming a series of bumps in the universe diagram like the grip on a hand tool.]
Molded grip
[Stars appear in the timeline. The Universe starts inflating slightly faster than before.]
Stars form
Stagflation
[The Universe starts deflating slowly.]
Settling
Rebound
[The Universe starts inflating slowly again.]
Someone tripped and accidentally hit the "Inflation" switch again
[The Universe starts inflating at the same rate as the Inflation section.]
Emergency Stop triggered
[The Universe abruptly stops inflating, and stays level.]
[Galaxies appear in the timeline. The Universe starts inflating at a medium pace.]
Galaxies form
Earth forms
Present day
[We see the edge of the Universe, with a rounded shape. Various dotted line predictions are on the edges.]
Future Cosmological development handed over to J.J. Abrams, outcome unknown


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Discussion

"Cool Bug Epoch" reminds me of the last panel in 1493 and 2191, but it's probably coincidental.--GoldNinja (talk) 19:44, 11 December 2019 (UTC)

Reminds me of Cool Bug Fact's DPS2004'); DROP TABLE users;-- (talk) 20:02, 11 December 2019 (UTC)
Yeah they are related the two comics, but not to this comic. --Kynde (talk) 14:47, 12 December 2019 (UTC)

"The title text is a mathematical joke, based on the Intermediate Value Theorem (IVT)... Hence, technically, Randall is correct." that is assuming that the universe didn't start from anything bigger than this comic. ̶P̶h̶y̶s̶i̶c̶i̶a̶n̶s̶ Physicists, discuss! (okay, fine. philosophers can join too) OtterlyAmazin (talk) 20:41, 11 December 2019 (UTC)

Even with antialiasing, the intrinsically granular nature of the graymap representing a sub-pixel measure, at any given perpendicular point of the scale at any given device's DPI. I wouldn't put it past the Universe to have skipped-through the gap between values. ...on the other hand, if we get into Big Rip territory, perhaps the effective DPI of any extant representation will pass back through a coincident value. 162.158.34.202 22:09, 11 December 2019 (UTC)
The models predict the universe to be smaller than a grain of sand even after the inflation so of course the observable universe was at some point smaller than the line width of this drawing and so he is correct. There is no mathematical joke. Randall often jokes about not actual size, but notices that there one point on his graph will actually have been at the actual size. Which is impossible to say, but yes it was probably between inflation and Quark epoch. I have changed the explanation to cover this. --Kynde (talk) 14:47, 12 December 2019 (UTC)

I notice that the events along the top are mostly sensible, while the events at the bottom are mostly not. 108.162.249.220 23:08, 11 December 2019 (UTC)

Naah that is not so evident. Below there are three correct and 6 wrong and above it is 2 wrong vs 7 correct. So yes most of the incorrect is on the bottom side, but that seems more like a coincidence, since there are wrong and right on either side. --Kynde (talk) 14:47, 12 December 2019 (UTC)

It would be good if this clarified whether the diagram of the growth itself is correct and just badly mislabeled, or if it doesn't even correctly show the size of the universe over time. Gaelan (talk) 00:24, 12 December 2019 (UTC)

No, this is not the actual diagram, which is a much smoother regular bell shape without the sharp pointy left end. We also don't really know anything about the starting point beyond wild conjecture, as there's lots of uncertainty in the cosmological model, no matter what anyone says. Ianrbibtitlht (talk) 03:08, 12 December 2019 (UTC)

While the explanation mentions the dashed lines for the future fate of the universe, it only lists 3 possibilities, even though there are 4 sets of dashed lines in the diagram. It's possible that the outermost dashed lines represent another mistaken inflation button press. Ianrbibtitlht (talk) 03:16, 12 December 2019 (UTC)

Have added notice of all four lines to the explanation. Feel free to improve my version of the explanation on them. Agree that one of them could be the idea that the inflation switch was pushed again. --Kynde (talk) 14:47, 12 December 2019 (UTC)

Hey, methinks the title text maybe referring to the lesbegue measure(which for a point is zero) since we are talking about sizes.--Jassi101 (talk) 08:21, 12 December 2019 (UTC)

No need to invoke complicated math to state that when something expands from zero size to universe size then at some time it must take on any value in between, and thus also fit on this comics drawing. --Kynde (talk) 14:47, 12 December 2019 (UTC) <--- not true if you allow a couple expansions via the higher-order dimensions, then the universe pops back into 3-D with a zero-time-lag & thus a genuine discontinuity without even any Gibbs Overshoot. Cellocgw (talk) 20:12, 12 December 2019 (UTC)

The explanation of the title text is now long and complicated and, for me, hard to follow. Couldn't we just say something simple like this? "Randall's universe diagram is always at least one pixel thick. But the universe started much smaller than one pixel and expanded to the size it is today, so at some time instant it must have passed through the size of Randall's diagram -- making the diagram 'actual size' at that instant." Wouldn't something simple like this be better? I'd do this myself but I'm leery of deleting a lot of other people's writing. DKMell (talk) 20:29, 13 December 2019 (UTC)

[edit]

Note: This topic is contained in a separate Talk page and was transcluded into the talk pages of new comics. This is to maintain a single discussion on the ads which affect all of explain xkcd. Click the "[edit]" button above to add comments about ads. --NeatNit (talk) 22:20, 3 November 2019 (UTC)

explainxkcd ads.jpg
When looking at the article page, I'm seeing several Google ads splashed across the full width of the article space, breaking it up randomly and making it more difficult to read (it sometimes interrupts the Transcript, for example, and also randomly crops up in the already-hard-to-read Discussion box). It looks awful. Is anyone else seeing them? I understand that ads are needed to pay for Explain XKCD's server costs, but they're really detrimental to the article. Hawthorn (talk) 13:13, 28 October 2019 (UTC)
Yeah, I'm seeing them, too, and I agree. ExplainXKCD is one of the few pages on my AdBlock white list. Please don't make me reconsider my decision. Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 13:47, 28 October 2019 (UTC)
Thank you for creating the new section. Yes, not only am I seeing them invade the text, but invade the text three times with the same advert. Perhaps we need a new tag to make room for advertising 172.68.174.22 13:59, 28 October 2019 (UTC)
I've added a tall screenshot of this to the right. Just from the thumbnail it's easy to see how disruptive it is to the page. --NeatNit (talk) 21:06, 28 October 2019 (UTC)
Oh, yours have images? Mine don't - they're just big white blocks with some text in them (which I think is even more disruptive since they are harder to distinguish from body text). But still, yeah, absolutely not a fan of this at all. It makes the site feel incredibly tacky. Hawthorn (talk) 21:34, 28 October 2019 (UTC)
Yes I also see them with pictures and it is horrible. :-( Will try to see if making a Admin requests will help... --Kynde (talk) 10:34, 29 October 2019 (UTC)
I'm not seeing them in the explanation - Maybe they fixed that? - but like FOUR times in the comments, which seems excessive. It seems less obtrusive than as described here - and shown, thanks NeatNit - but it still seems disgusting. They should keep them unobtrusive, like they've always been on the side. NiceGuy1 (talk) 05:17, 1 November 2019 (UTC)
I find it interesting that this Ad topic block is appearing on multiple comics (I saw it on 2221, where I added my other comments, then 2222, now this is 2220, and I see the same comments, including mine). I also find it interesting that after I left each comment on 2221 - between the comic's comment section and this one, like 8 edits or so, I kept finding things to say or corrections to my comments - I refreshed the page to see my edit show up, and after a couple I stopped seeing ads. Either there's a daily quota or it remembered that I closed each ad? Maybe a combination? NiceGuy1 (talk) 05:51, 1 November 2019 (UTC)
The topic showing up in multiple comic discussing is my doing - because this topic affects all of explainxkcd, I want to make sure it's always visible in the latest comic. I used wiki transclusion to do this. The discussion is actually held in Talk:2220: Imagine Going Back in Time/Ads and is inserted (transcluded) in all the other talk pages. --NeatNit (talk) 12:50, 2 November 2019 (UTC)
Oh, then may I say Way to go! I completely concur, this is an ongoing topic. (Though the ads seem gone now, at least for me) NiceGuy1 (talk) 05:11, 8 November 2019 (UTC)
Since the ads seem gone now, it seems like this section can stop being added to every new comic (though in my opinion it should remain on the relevant comics that were published during this dark time, I think 2220 until like 2225 or so...) NiceGuy1 (talk) 05:35, 10 November 2019 (UTC)
I'm only seeing 1 ad, always (regardless of which comic's explanation I'm seeing) after the second paragraph, always with pictures. The existence of the ad doesn't annoy me as much as the fact that it'll sometimes load after I've already read past that point, pushing the text I am reading down. --162.158.123.103 16:47, 29 October 2019 (UTC)
Click the X and report the ads for reason "Ad covers content". Maybe they'll even do something about it! 108.162.246.59 16:54, 30 October 2019 (UTC)
The thing is, that looks more like a complaint against the particular ad. Even picking "covers content" I get a response "Okay, we'll try not to show this ad any more". My objection isn't to the particular ad, it's to the EXISTENCE and PLACEMENT of the ad. I don't care what's IN the ad, it shouldn't be there at all! I accept the evil necessity of ads, just don't shove them down my throat, encouraging more people to use the ad blockers the obnoxious sites always whine about. NiceGuy1 (talk) 05:17, 1 November 2019 (UTC)
NiceGuy1 is correct. The complaint button is against a single advert, not against the advert block placement. It's not unlike filling a complaint against a business renting a billboard because you have a problem with where the billboard is placed. The business renting the space has no control over where the billboard is. 172.68.38.64 04:35, 2 November 2019 (UTC)

I'm not seeing these ads right now, have they been removed entirely? --NeatNit (talk) 12:41, 2 November 2019 (UTC)

I don't see them anymore either. Only the one on the left below the navigation bar remains, which has always been there and doesn't bother me. Bischoff (talk) 07:42, 4 November 2019 (UTC)
Ok, never mind. After I posted this and went back to the page the ads are back as well. Bischoff (talk) 07:42, 4 November 2019 (UTC)
All I see are the letters "Ads". Seems my Firefox blocks it. --162.158.91.71 13:57, 5 November 2019 (UTC)

I do not see any additional adds, but some additional linebreaks in between the pages, which fit the places described by those, seeing adds. Using Chrome on a company computer... So I do not know what exactly the settings are, but generally it does not block adds. (I even see the lunarpages add on the left) --Lupo (talk) 12:26, 6 November 2019 (UTC)

Last Wednesday (6 to 7 days ago), according to the time stamps on my previous comments above, I was seeing 4 or 5 ads in a rather short comment section (which went away after a few refreshes after a few comments). Now I see none. Maybe whoever turned them on saw the negative reaction and turned them back off? Or maybe they only needed a quick cash injection and turned it off after they got what they needed, LOL! NiceGuy1 (talk) 05:07, 8 November 2019 (UTC)

They indeed seem to have vanished. Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 14:42, 8 November 2019 (UTC)


I'm going to stop adding this conversation to new comics for the time being, because it seems like the ads have gone. It's weird though; no admin has commented on this. If you still see ads, let me know! --NeatNit (talk) 05:37, 10 November 2019 (UTC)

I removed this from the talk page for all but the first comic after it was first posted (as on that page there where also discussion on adds) --Kynde (talk) 15:04, 12 November 2019 (UTC)
Seems like there are no admins active at the moment... --Kynde (talk) 15:04, 12 November 2019 (UTC)

I still have areas on parts of some pages (e.g. in the discussion part of 1109 from time to time, which are according to the inspect tool, frames for google adds. They either cover part of the text, so I cannot click/mark it (what I often do to find the line I am reading in easier, or just to have my hand busy), or they create big interuptions of the text. --Lupo (talk) 10:57, 14 November 2019 (UTC)

December return of the ads[edit]

xkcd ads dec12.png
The horizontal ads are back. Noticed some on 2227 and decided to report back to this thread that the issue has not fully ended. ChessCake (talk) 13:47, 4 December 2019 (UTC)
Yes, I got them too. Also in the past weeks I got containers/placeholders in some places, which, according to the inspecting tool, where also for adds. Since today or yesterday they are fillign with adds again. --Lupo (talk) 13:52, 4 December 2019 (UTC)
I'm seeing them too.
They're back.
Ahiijny (talk) 14:48, 4 December 2019 (UTC)
The top-level div for one of those ad elements has class google-auto-placed ap_container. Possibly related: https://techcrunch.com/2018/02/21/google-debuts-adsense-auto-ads-with-machine-learning-to-make-placement-and-monetization-choices/ https://wpadvancedads.com/adsense-in-random-positions-auto-ads/ https://stackoverflow.com/questions/51183831/prevent-adsense-auto-ad-from-showing-ad-in-specific-area Ahiijny (talk) 14:56, 4 December 2019 (UTC)
Yup, they're back... I've transcluded this page in the latest comic's discussion page, and I've added a new screenshot here (more disruptive than the one Ahiijny showed). I've also made a comment on User talk:Davidy22, hopefully he'll receive an email about that. This stinks. --NeatNit (talk) 23:35, 11 December 2019 (UTC)
Yes they are back with a vengeance. Sadly it seems neither Davidy or Dgbrt are active anymore or replies to any messages written on their pages. They are the two last admins that have been active here. But Davidy has not been for more than two years (2017) and it has been some times since Dgbrt was active (march 2019)... PS I'm not an admin, just very active ;-) --Kynde (talk) 14:35, 12 December 2019 (UTC)

As of today, I am seeing fullwidth ads, but only in the talk page space. Aside from the usual sidebar ads, the rest of the explanation page doesn't have any. --Aaron of Mpls (talk) 21:45, 17 January 2020 (UTC)

After being fixed again, it now appears that users are seeing the erroneously placed ads again. Not a very nice April Fool's joke... ProphetZarquon (talk) 14:20, 3 April 2020 (UTC)