673: The Sun

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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The Sun
Obligatory bad guy: This operation is sheer foolishness, and it's not happening on my watch! Mainly because I can't figure out how to adjust the time.
Title text: Obligatory bad guy: This operation is sheer foolishness, and it's not happening on my watch! Mainly because I can't figure out how to adjust the time.


This comic makes fun of science fiction disaster movies, especially the 2003 film The Core in which a group of scientists travel through the Earth's mantle to place a series of nuclear devices in order to speed up the slowing rotation of the Earth's core and prevent a complete collapse of Earth's magnetic field. The comic is also a pun on "Daylight Saving Time", using it to mean saving the sun's light rather than its usual meaning of the semi-annual shift in clocks to "save" daylight for a more useful part of the day.

This comic presents the next film from the makers of The Core. In this case an astronomer, Ponytail, discovers that the Sun's fusion is failing. The two Cueball-like guys behind her are not impressed; one is disbelieving and the other is not interested ("whatever"). But then Ponytail rallies them by pointing out the impeding doom for Earth and they call NASA. A group of astronauts at NASA takes the call and the leader (another Cueball-like guy) describes what could happen in trailer-like fashion:

  • The earth bathed in eternal darkness?
  • A night without a dawn? Not on my watch!

Then he tells his team of astronauts - a fourth Cueball-like guy, Megan and another Ponytail - to "saddle up", and the comic finishes with the poster (a copy of the one for The Core with the Sun in place of the Earth's mantle) of this new movie called The Sun (hence the title of the comic) with two taglines:

  • It's Daylight Saving Time.
  • Never fall back.

The movie describes a scenario in which "the sun's fusion is failing". This is in fact the exact plot of the British science fiction film Sunshine from 2007, released two years before this comic, which was about a group of astronauts sent on a mission to reignite a dying Sun with a battery of nuclear bombs.

The sun's energy comes from nuclear fusion reactions among the extremely hot, dense hydrogen nuclei in its core. The idea of the sun's fusion failing is rather ridiculous from a scientific perspective, because the fusion reactions are well understood and the sun has enough hydrogen to fuel it for about 5 billion more years. Even if the sun's hydrogen was getting low, it would start fusing helium and begin expanding into a red giant. This would then make the Earth uninhabitable. In other words, if the sun stopped fusing, we wouldn't have to worry about less sunlight, we would have to worry about more.

In any case, it appears to be failing and the solution is to send a team of astronauts to the sun to restart the fusion. The team leader is motivated by concern that if the sun's fusion stops, there will be no more light, and so the earth will be in perpetual darkness.

The poster in the final panel gives the movies two taglines, both puns. Daylight saving time (DST) refers both to the policy of changing clocks and to the scenario in this movie in which it is time for the team to literally save the sun's daylight from being extinguished. "Never fall back" is an additional word play on the mnemonic used (in the States at least) to remember the direction to change clocks. The mnemonic, "spring forward, fall back" indicates that in the springtime, clocks get set ahead by an hour, while in fall the clocks are set backwards an hour. The phrase "fall back", however, can also mean to retreat from a battle.

Randall seems to believe that DST makes little sense today and he has made it clear in several comics that he is not a fan — or at least not a fan of the twice-yearly transitions between the two semi-arbitrary time standards. As DST is the main joke of the comic (and the title of the next movie), the comment from the astronaut about this not happening "on my watch" may be a pun relating to his wristwatch. He would not wish to have DST on his watch! This meaning is made clear in the title text (see below).

The comic makes fun of these disaster movies in a couple of ways. The characters in the first panel acknowledge that the scenario doesn't make sense scientifically, but are prepared to sacrifice scientific value for the plot. Also, in the second panel, the team is to be composed of NASA's "hottest astronauts", which makes fun of the fact that the characters in movies are much more attractive than average, and the fact that they will be much hotter when they reach the sun. The team leader expresses his concern with a few buzz phrases often used in such films.

An alternative explanation, which would make sense scientifically, is that the sun had never stopped working, and Ponytail merely assumed that something was wrong with the sun when the sunrise did not occur at its normal time, but that was only because the clocks had been sent an hour ahead for DST, and not because of anything wrong with the sun, which continued working properly, oblivious to earth clocks.

The title text continues the lunacy (solacy?) of the situation with the cliché of the "obligatory bad guy" — a person in the plot who acts antagonistic, often for the flimsiest of reasons. There is also the common complaint, especially among the technologically inept, that he can't figure out how to change the time, relating back to DST, and using the phrase "on my watch" as a pun here (if you interpret "watch" in the sense of a wristwatch). The phrase "on my watch" was used in the comic itself, but it isn't clear whether it was intended as a pun. It's possible that Randall realized he missed his chance to make a great pun with that phrase, inspiring the title text.

Note that while four different Cueballs in a comic is not uncommon, it is rare that two different Ponytails are shown in one comic.


[Caption above the first panel, which is lower than the rest:]
Coming this March from the makers of The Core...
[Ponytail is standing on a raised platform looking through a huge telescope (exiting the panel to the left) in an observatory. To her right is a large station with three screens and two Cueball-like guys are standing on the floor to the of that right. Behind them is another station with a large panel showing two circles with an arrow pointing from the top left to the bottom right.]
Ponytail: The sun's fusion is failing!
Man 1: Does that make sense?
Man 2: Whatever.
[Zoom in on the scene where Ponytail throws up her arms as she turns towards the two Cueball, still standing on the platform, but the rest of the background is white. The first Cueball turns around and points to the other Cueball who has also turned around and has taken a phone of the hook, the curled cord disappearing at the panels right edge.]
Ponytail: If we don't send a ship to restart it, it could go out completely!
Man 1: Call NASA!
Man 2 (into the phone): Assemble our hottest astronauts.
[Another Cueball-like guy has taken the call, and still stands with the phone in hand, the cord attached to the phone hook on the panels left edge. He stands with the helmet of a space suit under his other arm, obviously being an astronaut. Behind him is a fourth Cueball-like guy, Megan and another Ponytail.]
Astronaut: The earth bathed in eternal darkness? A night without a dawn? Not on my watch!
Astronaut: Saddle up.
[The same four characters are shown in silhouette on gray background (still only one with helmet under arm), casting huge shadows towards the bottom of the panel from the dim sun in the top center of the panel. Above the sun is written a tagline (for the movie) and at the bottom of the panels with shadows falling over it is a second smaller tagline:]
Daylight saving time.
Never fall back.

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Interesting (or deliberate?) that there's no reference at all in the explanation to Sunshine, released two years previously. 21:07, 20 May 2013 (UTC)

  • I just want to know if Randall knew the film Sunshine existed when he made the comic.

Can't "to spring" be thought of as a physical movement? 00:49, 7 January 2014 (UTC)

Yes; that's why the mnemonic works. Zowayix (talk) 16:08, 15 January 2014 (UTC)
Also, the mnemonic works because physically it is relatively easier to spring (i.e., jump) forward and to fall (through the simple action of gravity, without being able to catch yourself with your arms) back(ward) than it is to do the reverse. --BD (talk) 01:09, 20 November 2014 (UTC)
the fusion reactions are well understood

By whom?

I used Google News BEFORE it was clickbait (talk) 22:12, 27 January 2015 (UTC)

Okay, I'm too lazy to figure out a rewrite, but honestly...it seems pretty durned obvious that it's making fun of "The Core" which is actually mentioned in the comic, not making fun of some random British film not mentioned. Also look at the movie poster for "The Core" on Wikipedia; the similarities to the last panel with the group of people and the silhouettes is pretty obvious. 23:11, 12 April 2015 (UTC)MW

I think "not on my watch" is being used as another pun, as daylight savings would not happen on your watch if you couldn't adjust it. 12:19, 28 April 2015 (UTC)

It's not incorrect to say that this comic makes fun of science fiction disaster movies, but that's not right place to start. The comic is really about the fact that there are two ways to interpret the term "daylight saving time", and one of those ways sounds like the over-adrenalized style that one sees in action movie posters. That's the central joke, and the mockery of science fiction disaster movies is there in order to make that joke funny

The statement that "Even in the nearly impossible event of the sun's fusion is failing in the traditional sense, the sun would collapse causing a supernova." is incorrect as the Sun does not have enough mass to fuel a supernova. IIRC it's mass would have to be about 40% higher for that to happen

Removed it. 02:29, 30 October 2020 (UTC)

Is the second Cueball in panel one dismissing Ponytail's warning, or dismissing the other Cueball's question of whether it makes sense? I took it as a joke on people dismissing such criticism of such disaster movies by pointing out they are just an excuse for two hours of pretty people and special effects, and aren't supposed to be thought about. 15:38, 17 March 2022 (UTC)

How are we sure there are two ponytails in this comic? It could be the same character. After all they will need someone competent on their team. 18:04, 25 January 2023 (UTC)

There's no sign that the common illustrative (and filmic) convention has been broken, of NASA-calling Cueball being in direct communication with helmet-carrying Cueball across the 'jump-cut' between the two frames/scenes. For original Ponytail to have had time to be in both scenes presupposes a whole omitted period of time (ok, so not rare in film trailers, which reassemble the storyline how they see fit) but, more than that, it makes nonsense of the helmet-Cueball seeming to learn of the group's instructions by phone when Ponytail (of the initial scene) seems to be already both knowledgable and authoritative enough to have briefed the team upon her arrival (at whatever point in the intervening time that was).
...you'd need to assume some big "but is the threat really real?" plotpoint where Ponytail (initial version) and her staff have primed NASA but some beaurocratic process then had to have been seen (in the full movie) in which Ponytail (and perhaps even one of 'her' Cueballs, because... expendible sidekick?) rock up to NASA, get them to at least prepare for the mission, all the while awaiting the go/no-go direct from the person in charge (NASA boss/POTUS/whatever), at which point the explicit confirmation comes through and is rhetorically relayed to a team who know exactly what it is they'll be doing (if it turns out they're doing anything) and just need an "It's a Go, guys!"
Not that some dialogue/screenplay isn't as bad as the backformed trailer-cut version forces us to assume (nor that some trailers don't horribly Lie with misplaced or even unused film-footage that sort of makes its own sense, if you don't notice the same character present in both scenes). But I prefer to think that Astronomer-Ponytail is perhaps NASA-Ponytail's twin sister. Making it even more dramatic that, in order to save the world from <whatever>, the former has to put her super-sibling as directly into harm's way as any practical and observational person can, even given the latter's obvious tendency to a more risk-taking profession (but probably still topped the intelligence tests).
...yet that's just my own headcanon. 00:05, 26 January 2023 (UTC)