2550: Webb

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Each one contains a chocolate shaped like a famous spacecraft and, for the later numbers, a pamphlet on managing anxiety.
Title text: Each one contains a chocolate shaped like a famous spacecraft and, for the later numbers, a pamphlet on managing anxiety.


This comic depicts an advent calendar geared toward astronomers anticipating the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope.

At the time this comic was published, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) was scheduled to be launched on the 22nd of December, 2021 (after many prior delays). Christmas would indeed have come early for astronomers if the launch had been successful and on time. By December 14, the launch date had been pushed back again to "no earlier than December 24", as NASA was working on resolving a communications issue between the observatory and its launch vehicle system. This was followed by another delay announced on December 21, when the launch date was pushed back to December 25, due to weather concerns. It was successfully launched from Kourou in French Guiana on December 25 at 09:20 FGT (12:20 UTC, 07:20 EST), as hoped for in this comic: 2559: December 25th Launch.

A normal advent calendar marks the days until Christmas by allowing miniature doors to be opened, or other means of revealing some treat/picture. This is often from the 1st of the month until the 'big reveal' on the 24th or 25th, though other schemes may exist in other cultures. This particular calendar features 18 hexagonal features, intended to be sequentially accessed over several days, in the same layout as the 18 gold-beryllium mirror segments designed to fold out to form the JWST's primary mirror. The first door is on the 5th, two days after this comic's publication date, making the last on the 22nd, the 'Big Day'.

Cueball's question could be interpreted two ways: Cueball doesn't know about JWST, so he is asking why this advent calendar ends before Christmas (and possibly fearing this calendar is similar to the one in 1245: 10-Day Forecast); or Cueball does know about JWST and its history of delays, so he is asking why the calendar ends on 22 when there is no certainty in that launch date (and also implying that he expects it to be delayed). [Note: two weeks after the comic was posted, the JWST was again delayed, this time to no earlier than Christmas Eve (and later finally to Christmas Day itself), making the expectation accurate. This would also make a traditional advent calendar serve equally well, were it not for the hexagon design.]

December 22 is also the day after the northern hemisphere winter solstice. The end of the world was famously predicted for the winter solstice in 2012.

The title text references the fact that chocolates in advent calendars are often molded into different shapes, and the fact that the later numbers have a "pamphlet on managing anxiety" is probably supposed to quell the impeding fear that the launch could be delayed further or go wrong. The telescope's launch was initially planned for 2007, but due to various redesigns, financial issues, accidents, flaws, and the COVID-19 pandemic, the launch date was pushed back to 2011, then 2013, 2018, 2020, May 2021, October 2021, and finally to the current launch date in December 2021. It may also allude to post-launch concerns; even if the launch goes well, there will still be nervousness about the complex 160-day process in which the JWST reaches its intended observation point 930,000 miles from Earth, many subsystems are unfolded/deployed, and the instrument passes its final calibrations. There is effectively no way to rescue/repair this expensive piece of equipment should anything be amiss, unlike the Hubble Space Telescope, which was visited five times by Space Shuttles to remedy and enhance various features. (There exist issues with even Hubble that cannot currently be considered repairable without the Shuttles or any proven replacement, and the JWST will be located far beyond Hubble's operational orbit in a place much more difficult to get to.)

The JWST has been referenced previously in 1730: Starshade, 2014: JWST Delays and 2447: Hammer Incident, mentioned in 1461: Payloads as well as indirectly in 975: Occulting Telescope. After this comic it was referenced in 2559: December 25th Launch and 2564: Sunshield.


[Cueball and Ponytail are looking at an advent calendar hanging on a wall in front of them. The advent calendar is loosely tiled with 18 smaller hexagons, numbered from 5 to 22 in no clear order or pattern. They are regularly arranged into a larger hexagonal shape and of the five rows, there are three in the top and bottom ones, as also with each diagonal edge. There are four in each of the other rows, offset symmetrically, with a gap where a fifth could have been in the center of the middle row.]
Cueball: The hexagons are nice.
Cueball: But why does it end at 22?
[The order of the numbers in the advent calendar are as this:]
         5      22      10 
    11      15      19      17
14       7    [none]    13       8
     9      16       6      20
        18      21      12
[Caption below the panel:]
Astronomer Advent Calendar

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Ah, without edit-conflict being indicated (probably because subsequent new paragraphs could be considered as not 'treading on the toes' of the first one posted), I seem to have added repetitious information. Also I can see that I misbalanced the paragraph sizes as I went into increasingly more detail as I got into the edit. Was going to go back to wikilink/fix/etc, but I should probably leave it to a new eye to better re-edit the whole think 'nicer', taking how much or little inspiration the current mess of text might provide. Have fun! 04:49, 4 December 2021 (UTC)

I tried to restructure it a bit (grouping related info, rebalancing paragraph sizes) and resolve the duplication without losing any important information. Hope it looks okay? 05:46, 4 December 2021 (UTC)
wtg guys for clearly describing these abstract issues and addressing them 16:38, 5 December 2021 (UTC)

Could someone explain why the numbers are arranged the way they are?

It looks like the mirror on the telescope. -- 14:04, 4 December 2021 (UTC)
If a magic hexagon was possible, he would have done it. However, the numbers add up to 243, and with 5 rows, this makes it impossible for each row to add up to the same number. 16:29, 4 December 2021 (UTC)
I know some advent calendars go in exact order, but a lot of them are actually ordered randomly. I've got one in my living room where the top row is "2, 17, 8, 10" 23:42, 4 December 2021 (UTC)

Alternate explanation: all the astronomers are Moldovian Orthodox Catholics, and they timed the telescope to launch on Christmas Eve in their slightly out-of-sync calendar in which Christmas replaced days 2 & 3 of their week long Winter Solstice Party.Seebert (talk) 17:28, 4 December 2021 (UTC)

Why does it have the small hexagons oriented "pointy side up"? I know this is generally considered a good thing, as far as rocket launches are concerned, but in this case? 20:28, 4 December 2021 (UTC)

That's the way the hexagonal mirrors are oriented in the JWST (talk) 12:09, 6 December 2021 (UTC)

The cells on the calendar go from 5 to 22, which I assumed was a reference that astronomers have been waiting since 2005 (when the current mission was replanned) until 2022 (the year the telescope will become active). Rather than counting down 25 days until Christmas, astronomers are counting down 18 years (inclusive) until they get their new toys to play with. 00:29, 5 December 2021 (UTC)

It's also just the number of mirrors the telescope has, and the day it launches. 16:38, 5 December 2021 (UTC) Cwallenpoole (talk)
I was wondering why 1–4 were missing. Cwallenpoole (talk) 14:28, 6 December 2021 (UTC)

JWST is as fixable as Hubble, if you have Starships. Which NASA is already counting on (and funding) for Artemis. 21:37, 5 December 2021 (UTC)

Not yet available... Current tech is woefully unable (or unwilling to be put to use) to help with HST, never mind JWST. Retired tech could do Hubble, as proven, but would have been stretched to deal with the Webb. And the Webb isn't even designed to be fixed (though I'm sure they'll still have people working on it if they discover a washer's-worth of mirror misalignment, or whatever...).
That sweet smell of Musk isn't yet right for the job. Even if the business plan says that it will be flying within the next few months, it'd be wishful thinking to rely on it at this point.
(More so than with the sample-driller/collect/return chain of missions currently only a fraction of the way through realisation upon Mars. There's the Return stage to implement almost from scratch (setting up remote launch-site, fully fueled, etc) but the whole rover-with-manipulator thing isn't really an engineering challenge, more a matter of design nuances and the usual amount of (apparently increasing, but surely not infallible) skill and luck in executing the required landings.) 00:13, 6 December 2021 (UTC)
Off topic now, but the point about manned missions to Mars is that you _don't_ come back, you colonise. good luck. 13:19, 6 December 2021 (UTC)

Could it also have to do with the fact that so called "Advent Calendars" tend to have 25 days, even though the Advent Season (Starting 4 Sundays before Christmas) is dependant on what day of the week Dec 25th falls on, and at a minimum 28 days long? Or am I the only one bothered by the fact that the companies making these calendars ignore the meaning of "advent" in the Christmas context, and just arbitrarily start them in December? 14:24, 6 December 2021 (UTC)

In Denmark we just call it a Christmas Calender (Julekalender) and has no reference to Advent (or to Christ for that matter, they never managed to make us real Christians ;-p ) Also we celebrate on the Eve before the 24th so Santa has to come while we are still up, as we open the presents on the 24th and thus our x-mas calendars end on the 24th. --Kynde (talk) 10:19, 8 December 2021 (UTC)
In Finland it's complicated. My Lego calendar has 24 windows, daughters L.O.L. toy calendar has 25 windows (haven't seen this kind before) and church sells ones that start on 28.11. since that's the first advent this year. 04:38, 20 December 2021 (UTC)

It's because hexagons are the bestagons. 17:07, 6 December 2021 (UTC)

Hexagons are the Bestagons! love it ;-) --Kynde (talk) 10:19, 8 December 2021 (UTC)

In retrospect, Cueball wasn't wrong - it should have been all the way to December 25. 16:28, 24 December 2021 (UTC)

This is actually awesome. I wonder if anyone actually made this? I certainly hope so! 10:46, 27 May 2022 (UTC)