In the first panel we see Cueball and Ponytail standing in front of a large computer monitor, waiting for New Horizons to approach Pluto, turn communications on, and give them their first image of the planet's surface. Apparently Steve miscalculated the Jupiter slingshot maneuver for NASA's New Horizons mission, leading the probe to slingshot back towards Earth instead of towards Pluto. Needless to say, this is a huge embarrassment, especially in front of the successful Dawn team, who were the first to get a probe to visit a dwarf planet.
The title text suggests crashing the probe into Steve's house as punishment for his errors.
Anyone know why the text on the comic was heavily aliased (pixelated edges), although it's since been fixed on the xkcd website? Keavon (talk) 07:45, 1 June 2015 (UTC)
- Probably a bad setting on the PNG compression by Randall when saving. Maybe he's trying to optimize file size (although in this case, the quality suffered). --BigMal // 188.8.131.52 11:53, 1 June 2015 (UTC)
- Did the quality of the comic improve over time? Might have been a reference to the images provided by new horizons becoming more clear as it approached184.108.40.206 12:51, 5 June 2015 (UTC)
- There's some weirdness in the earth images, too. You can see it if you bump the contrast and brightness a bunch -- there's a rectangular box around Earth, which it sits at the right end of. There's also a slight gradient in the box that's brighter at the right side, a couple of meandering green lines in the brightest part of the gradient, a series of green X shapes at lower left, and a repeating pattern of green, blue and pure black at top left. Curious, could be intentional or simply an artifact of how Randall made the image. 220.127.116.11 21:21, 22 June 2015 (UTC)
According to Wikipedia, "in August 2014, astronomers made high-precision measurements of Pluto's location and orbit around the Sun using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array to help NASA's New Horizons spacecraft accurately home in on Pluto." Was Steve involved in these measurements too? (And any of the numerous ways by which it can be determined how far away NH is and which way it is travelling!)--Laverock (talk) 12:43, 1 June 2015 (UTC)
This joke appears to be aimed at the implausibility of the Horizon Mission’s concept art, which looks suspiciously like earth. The image shows deserts, mountains and oceans which appear to be “riffs off” of a satellite image of the Horn of Africa, western Asia, and the Indian Ocean.
Artist's conception of New Horizons at Pluto. Image Credit: NASA
- I think that -is- Earth, a view of the probe right after it was launched. Then again... Classic Star Trek episode "Miri" is set on a distant planet with identical continents to Earth for no reason except to get you interested quickly. It was made before "Planet of the Apes" by the way (spoiler). An unsatisfactory novel called "Preserver" revisits it and proposes there are super-powered aliens just messing with us. Actually in Star Trek there are super-powered aliens just messing with us about every third week and they usually constructed their own gonzo planet just for that purpose, so the assumption that these are new, unknown super-powered aliens is unjustified, but of course true (The Preservers), unless they are really Organians or Q but they just don't say so. And if the Planet Copiers are abroad, who's to say that Earth is the original. Outside Trek, it's also even odds that a fictional Counter-Earth planet on the other side of the sun - there have been several although it's physically impossible - has identical continents to Earth. And in "D.R. and Quinch Have Fun On Earth", our continents are alien graffiti, unfortunately leading to cleanup. Love, Robert Carnegie [email protected] 18.104.22.168 11:17, 12 June 2015 (UTC)
I do not know if the image is concept art for the New Horizon mission from back in 2006; or if it is a more generic space exploration art work. It is hard to imagine that it is specific to the New Horizon’s Mission.
One should ask New Horizons mission members to comment. There must be an interesting inside story. Dfh42 (talk) 15:49, 1 June 2015 (UTC)
This earlier mission art is probably closer to what Randall would consider plausible:
http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/image_feature_267.html Dfh42 (talk) 16:29, 1 June 2015 (UTC)
Waitasec, wouldn't the people on the ground know pretty much the exact position of this probe at all times? If nothing else they know its direction and distance from earth just by monitoring their communications with it. Odysseus654 (talk) 17:45, 1 June 2015 (UTC)
- Yes, that is the joke.Zeimusu (talk) 21:18, 3 June 2015 (UTC)
- Slingshot maneuver
It uses the gravity of a planet to alter the path and speed of a spacecraft. Reference I guess Steve miscalculated the maneuver. --Arturotena (talk) 06:41, 1 June 2015 (UTC)
I believe this really requires three bodies to work. The close passage by the small object slightly alters the orbital elements of the larger body (around the largest body, in this case, the sun), while also changing the orbit of the small body, both direction and speed.--DrMath 06:44, 27 May 2018 (UTC)
- Related tweet: As @NASANewHorizons gets closer, our view of #Pluto gets better and better!.
- Related link: NASA’s New Horizons Sees More Detail as It Draws Closer to Pluto.
- NASA Dawn Team
--Arturotena (talk) 06:34, 1 June 2015 (UTC)
If Pluto is 39.26 AU from the Sun, how can New Horizons be 0.34 AU from Pluto and 32.55 AU from the Sun? 22.214.171.124 20:54, 1 June 2015 (UTC)
- I reinserted the sentence semi-major axis, and I added a Wikipedia link: semi-major axis. 126.96.36.199 21:47, 1 June 2015 (UTC)
Why is the distance even in the explanation ? -- I move to strike and delete Spongebog (talk) 15:02, 2 June 2015 (UTC)
- No rotation and an imminent impact?
Most likely it's just a concession to making the cartoon easier to draw, but I'd note that between the third and fifth frames, Earth appears not to rotate noticeably. That implies either extreme speed, or less likely, slow enough speed that Earth is conveniently managing one or more complete rotations between frames. Since the conversation is implied to continue throughout, we can safely presume the former. That suggests an imminent collision somewhere on (or near) the southern coast of Yemen. 188.8.131.52 21:21, 22 June 2015 (UTC)
So is Steve a character now? What about a dwarf character? Z (talk) 20:22, 2 June 2015 (UTC)
- There must be other people named "Steve" ! Spongebog (talk) 06:35, 3 June 2015 (UTC)
- No, Steve was an only child . . . . BingoBash (talk) 06:45, 3 June 2015 (UTC)
Btw, Steve was also mentioned in comic 228. TronX7 (talk) 06:59, 5 June 2015 (UTC)
I didn't even see this as a representation of Earth. As I looked at each image, I thought I was seeing an image of Goofy (rather than Pluto) as seen through a glass orb. 184.108.40.206 20:26, 9 June 2015 (UTC)
I've fixed the three opaque links. I'll remove the incomplete tag in the next few days, unless anybody objects. Cosmogoblin (talk) 14:10, 24 June 2015 (UTC)
220.127.116.11 (why are all the anonymous contributors on this page Californian? You're the other side of the country, you don't need to worry about NASA missions exploding!) added a link about the worst-case scenario in the event of a launch disaster, but just copied it from Wikipedia without checking - it was broken, so I searched for the source and fixed it. In doing so, I had a look at what the report says, and I'm not convinced the text from Wikipedia (sourced originally from "The Cosmic Compendium", ISBN 978-1329022027) is correct. The report indicates on page 4-30 that the scenario mentioned would result in "0.4 mean health effects", whereas a less likely scenario mentioned directly below that would result in "102 mean health effects", about 250 times worse. Still, it's from a cited, published source, and if anybody's wrong, it's Rupert W Anderson. Cosmogoblin (talk) 15:32, 26 June 2015 (UTC)
Cosmogoblin, the entirety of the text from "The Cosmic Compendium" by Rupert W Anderson is taken word for word straight from Wikipedia. So you didn't really chase your source far enough, I don't think. "Rupert" goes so far as to actually cite every single one of his sources as Wikipedia along with relevant licenses (public domain or creative commons) so I'm guessing that book is scamming people who don't realize what they're buying. 18.104.22.168 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)