2253: Star Wars Voyager 1

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Star Wars Voyager 1
There's some flexibility depending on your standards for measuring runtime and the various special editions. If you still want to have a party, I'm sure you can find some combination that works.
Title text: There's some flexibility depending on your standards for measuring runtime and the various special editions. If you still want to have a party, I'm sure you can find some combination that works.


Cueball has added together all the runtimes of the Star Wars movies (episodes I-IX) and then calculated the exact time at which a message sent to Voyager 1 will have that exact duration in light speed delay. He announces this information to Megan and Beret Guy only seconds before it occurs, allowing him to signal the moment by saying "Now!", after waiting in the beat panel.

Megan expresses surprise that the event isn't being celebrated with fireworks. Judging by the fact that she doesn't look up from her book, her surprise is sarcastic. Beret Guy breaks into song with the New Year's traditional "Auld Lang Syne", traditionally transcribed as "Should auld acquaintance be forgot" but here rendered with a non-Scots attempt at the song's orthography.

This comic highlights an interesting relationship between the Star Wars episodes and the NASA space probe "Voyager 1", which most likely no one else has thought about, but most likely fitting well with fans of both xkcd and Star Wars.

The original Star Wars film was released on May 25th, 1977, only four months before Voyager 1 was launched on September 5th, 1977. The last film was released more than 42.5 years later on December 20th, 2019, only three weeks before this comic.

Voyager 1 was, with a distance of 148.68 Astronomical units (22.2 billion km; 13.8 billion mi) from Earth as of December 26, 2019, the most distant human-made object from Earth. This data is given with reference in the Wikipedia article for Voyager 1. That was less than a week after the release of the new movie. That is approximately 20.6 light hours away. With the recently released last episode the total viewing time of the nine episodes is 20.35 hours (not including the spin-off movies). So a discrepancy of 15 minutes. This could be explained by the title text.

In the mission status of the two Voyager probes there were a One-Way Light Time of 20 hours 36 minutes and 46 seconds on the day the comic was released. This corresponds to 20.613 light hours, only the 46 seconds deviation from exactly 20.6 hours.

This is an odd coincidence that Cueball/Randall saw significant enough to mark with a timer and acknowledgment to Megan and Beret Guy (and the rest of the fans of xkcd).

In the title text Randall notes that there can be different ways of measuring run times, both if you do not count credits into the runtime or with more than one version existing of at least the original trilogies films, with added extra footage. This means that if you choose the longest possible run time, you may still have a chance to throw a party for some time to come, as every extra minute of film will add time before Voyager 1 reaches that extra light minute.

However as demonstrated in the Table of runtime below, then only for the very longest versions would this have worked around the time of the release of the movie. Now, three weeks later it is too late.

When Voyager 1 left the heliosphere it was traveling at about 17 kilometers per second (11 mi/s), making it the fastest heliocentric recession speed of any spacecraft, and it is not really slowing down. (Do note that the speed with which it travels from Earth is not the same since Earth is in orbit around the Sun and sometimes travels faster towards Voyager 1 than Voyager 1 leaves the sun, but then Earth turns and goes the other way!)

Since a light minute is 1.799×107 kilometers it takes Voyager 1 12.25 days to travel this far. So for every minute added to the run time, the party start time will be delayed by more than 12 days. However, it is already 14 days since the distance given on Wikipedia, so more than one extra minute is needed to postpone the party to after the release day of the comic.

The last possible chance is to assume that all run times have been rounded down, which could add anywhere from a half a minute to almost 9 full minutes if they round 125.9 down to 125, and not only rounded 125.4 (and not rounding 125.5 up). Actually, assuming all runtimes are rounded down, it is realistic that there is on average half a minute extra runtime per episode making 4.5 minutes extra time. This would buy 55 extra days from the 26th of December... But to find this out correctly, someone would need to review all the 9 episodes from the very first second to the very last of the most extended versions. It seems that it could still be possible to find a day where the party can still be held after the release day of the comic.

In the extreme case that all movies went 59 seconds over a full minute, but all times are rounded down, it would add 8 minutes and 51 seconds. This could give 108 extra days from 2019-12-26, meaning that Easter Sunday 2020 (2020-04-12) would be the last possible day for such a party.

This may also be a play on the confusion between the Star Wars and the Star Trek franchises. In the case of Star Trek, the very first movie dealt with a Voyager probe (Voyager 6 in this case), and the number of hours and quantity of Star Trek movies rivals and exceeds that of the main Star Wars movies; about 25 and a half hours between 13 movies. Maybe we'll see this in an xkcd when Voyager gets a little further away?

Table of runtime[edit]

  • Here is a table with the nine episodes (ordered in release order, but it is sortable and the episode number is also included)
  • The title, the run time and the release day (theatrical release in the US) is taken from Wikipedia.
  • The total run time in hours are summed up chronological in the last column. (So no meaning if the table is sorted).
  • From this the total runtime comes up to 1221 minutes which is only 20.35 hours 15 minutes shorter than the time it currently takes light to travel to Voyager 1.
    • Seems like Randall used a different version of the runtime than standard per Wikipedia.
    • To investigate this the longest time of any version as given on IMDb (or Wikipedia, which was longer than on IMDb with 1 minute for Episode 8) was added in the next column with the total time for these longest versions in the last. This brings the total time up to 1236 exactly 15 minutes extra getting a total of 20.6 hours.
    • So at the distance given on Wikipedia December 26th, it must have been very close to the Now Cueball mentions. But now a few weeks later the discrepancy is even larger, and there seems to be no way to choose an even longer running time than those given below. So only rounding down could save the chance to postpone the party for a later day.
# Title Release day Run time (min) Total time (hour) Longest run (min) Sum longest (hour)
4 Star Wars 1977-05-25 121 2.02 125 2.08
5 The Empire Strikes Back 1980-05-21 124 4.08 127 4.20
6 Return of the Jedi 1983-05-25 132 6.28 134 6.43
1 Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace 1999-05-19 133 8.50 136 8.70
2 Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones 2002-05-16 142 10.87 142 11.06
3 Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith 2005-05-19 140 13.20 140 13.4
7 Star Wars: The Force Awakens 2015-12-18 135 15.45 138 15.7
8 Star Wars: The Last Jedi 2017-12-15 152 17.98 152 18.22
9 Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker 2019-12-20 142 20.35 142 20.58


[Cueball is looking down at the smartphone he is holding in one hand, while he is holding his other hand's finger up in the air. He is standing behind an armchair where Megan is sitting reading a book or paper. She holds it open with both hands. She has turned her head halfway towards him. Sitting on the floor in front of her is Beret Guy, legs bent and leaning back resting on one hand, with his phone in the other hand.]
Cueball: The time it takes light to travel between Earth and Voyager 1 is exactly equal to the combined runtime of Star Wars episodes I-IX...
[A slim beat panel, showing only Cueball standing in the same pose as in the first panel.]
[Cueball looks up from his phone and raises his finger higher up. Megan has turned back to reading. Beret Guy looks up, and he has put his phone on the floor to put his, now free, hand on his heart, while singing, as indicated both with nodes before and after the lyrics he sings as well as letting his speech line start at a starburst near his head, rather than just beginning near the head, as normally.]
Cueball: ...Now!
Megan: Weird that I don't hear any fireworks.
Beret Guy (singing): Should ollld acquaintance be forgooot

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Rate of increase

Given that the first Star Wars movie and Voyager I were "released" around the same time, and that over the years Voyager has been getting further away while more Star Wars movies have been realeased, I wonder how often the time it takes for a message to reach Voyager I has been exactly the same as the total runtime of Star Wars movies at that date. Like, how far away was Voyager when Revenge of the Sith was released? This would make for an interesting graph.

RANDALL CAN YOU HEAR ME? MAKE A GRAPH PLS -- Alcatraz ii (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Yes that could be interesting actually. Sadly I believe Randall keeps clear of such sites as this so he will not see you request. Remember to sign your comments, and try not to add new sections in the comments. --Kynde (talk) 08:31, 10 January 2020 (UTC)
After I made the table... If someone find out how long Voyager was away on the release of episode number 2-8 then we can easily make the graph our selves to find out how many times it has happened. For sure it must have occurred between film 3 and 4. And probably again between 6 and 7? --Kynde (talk) 13:46, 10 January 2020 (UTC)

How accurately is the position of Voyager I known? I think this comic came out earlier in the day than usual, and I found myself wondering if there's public data precise enough to calculate this momentous occasion to within an hour, or even a minute. Angel (talk) 10:18, 10 January 2020 (UTC)

I believe this is known extremely precise since we are still in radio contact with it. But for sure there should be a link. Given the title text I think it is not important when it was released. Just a few seconds extra will add long time to Voyagers travel. That time should also be part of the final explanation. As what the possible longest time all episodes could reach given the longest possible calculation of the total time. --Kynde (talk) 10:32, 10 January 2020 (UTC)
Link here: Mission status. Although I'm not sure an historic view of this data exists anywhere... Jotomicron (talk) 10:49, 10 January 2020 (UTC)
Thanks great. I have added a screen shot of the light distance today to the explanation along with the link. I have written most of the explanation by now, table and transcript also. But could probably need some cleanup. I really tried to find a way that Randall did not come up with this comic too late, but maybe the rounding down idea is too far fetched? But then I cannot see any other way to save the title text. --Kynde (talk) 11:57, 10 January 2020 (UTC)

You know, Randall is the only person I know who regularly talks about themed parties. I've never actually known them to be a particularly common thing. Nonetheless, it seems to be a recurring theme on XKCD. Hawthorn (talk) 12:03, 10 January 2020 (UTC)

Maybe but this is not a themed party, just a party to celebrate an event. A theme party to me is when you dress like in the 20s... :p, either one. --Kynde (talk) 13:43, 10 January 2020 (UTC)
Uh oh, now you've done it. The rules of the Meta-verse require that you host an "XKCD party themes" theme party. Iggynelix (talk) 14:40, 10 January 2020 (UTC)

According to wikipedia: the title of "Auld Lang Syne" that Beret Guy signs in the last picture <<may be translated into standard English as "old long since" or, more idiomatically, "long long ago">>, this could be a reference to SW's "Long long time ago..." 13:55, 10 January 2020 (UTC)

A few additional thoughts

It shouldn't be too hard to figure the distance (and therefore radio travel time) to Voyager I back into the past because once it was beyond the last planet visited (Saturn, in 1980) - both Voyagers have mostly been in free-fall under (predominantly) the sun's gravity only - so the math isn't that hard unless you need really razor-sharp precision.

Voyager II would be a lot harder because it also did fly-by's of Uranus and Neptune in '86 and '89 - which each changed it's speed quite noticeably - and those encounters happened after the first three movies were released.

But for a reasonable approximation - Wikipedia already has that chart: [1]. You can see that after about 1981 (ie roughly around episode V and certainly after VI), both distance and velocity graphs are almost a straight line. So even then, the effect of the sun's gravity was really tiny and could probably be neglected unless you need REALLY high precision.

A much bigger issue for party-planning is the diameter of the Earth's orbit around the sun. That's not a negligible factor here - because it adds a variance of about +/- 500 light-seconds to any calculation...and +/-8.3 minutes of seasonal adjustment is critical in figuring out when to hold the party.

SteveBaker (talk) 17:25, 10 January 2020 (UTC)

Yep, as far as I can tell, right now Voyager is behind the sun and we are chasing it. The heliocentric velocity is about ten times the geocentric judging by the estimated distance tickers. Over the next six months that lightspeed delay will begin to drop down again. 09:57, 13 January 2020 (UTC)
As of Jan 18, https://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/status/ gives the one way light travel time as 20:36:51. Clearly the speed away from the Earth has been overestimated, at least for the current month. So there is more time to plan parties than calculated. 20:21, 18 January 2020 (UTC)

Sometimes I wonder if Randall sits around trying to think of comic ideas that will force the Explain Wiki editors to do a lot of research and table-making. (if this doesn't look like a lot of research to you, remember that "a lot" is subjective) 21:20, 10 January 2020 (UTC)

Star Wars Voyager, a play on Star Trek Voyager?

Insufficient runtime

Isn't the Delta Quadrant way farther than that? We'd need at least a few more trilogies to balance that out.

^^^ that wasn't me, but I came here because it occurred to me that Star Wars Voyager is quite possibly a pun on 'Star Trek Voyager', which the above is a reference to. 03:05, 11 January 2020 (UTC)

NTSC / PAL / physical film runtime deviations

What about the runtime deviations of different formats? Films are produced for 24 frames per second, while NTSC is 29,97 fps and PAL is 25 fps. So, maybe the time diference is resulting from this? Randal has took the original theater runtimes and the table lists maybe the ntsc dvd runtimes, that are faster? --Dichter (talk) 14:03, 11 January 2020 (UTC)

Holiday special

So if we account for the Holiday special (roughly 120 min of "fun" if memory serves) there's still pleeenty of time . Although the will to throw a party migh suffer from that thought

We do not talk about that! Please see that last row of this comic to know what would have happened to you saying this with fans around: 566: Matrix Revisited  :-) If you wish to include more there is the two spin-off movies mentioned above for many hours more. --Kynde (talk) 18:08, 11 January 2020 (UTC)
The comic is pretty clear on that point though - it says "Episodes I-IX". So no "special" and no movies that aren't numbered episodes. 03:36, 12 January 2020 (UTC)