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XKCD takes on hypothetical questions of physics

Randall Munroe’s XKCD is a nerd’s webcomic. Randall answering hypothetical questions about physics is taking nerdom to the highest levels – with comics. Something tells me Randall wasn’t the cartoonist that sat at the back of the glass drawing to impress the girls.

Here’s the first three questions (and snippet of an answer):

What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90% the speed of light?

The ideas of aerodynamics don’t apply here. Normally, air would flow around anything moving through it. But the air molecules in front of this ball don’t have time to be jostled out of the way. The ball smacks into them so hard that the atoms in the air molecules actually fuse with the atoms in the ball’s surface. Each collision releases a burst of gamma rays and scattered particles.

What if everyone who took the SAT guessed on every multiple-choice question? How many perfect scores would there be?

If all four million 17-year-olds all took the SAT, and they all guessed randomly, it’s a statistical certainty that there would be no perfect scores on any of the three sections.

How certain is it? Well, if they each used a computer to take the test a million times each day, and continued this every day for five billion years-until the Sun expanded to a red giant and the Earth was charred to a cinder-the chance of any of them ever getting a perfect score on just the math section would be about 0.0001%.

How much Force power can Yoda output?

Lastly, we need to know the strength of gravity on Dagobah. Here, I figure I’m stuck, because while sci-fi fans are obsessive, it’s not like there’s gonna be a catalog of minor geophysical characteristics for every planet visited in Star Wars. Right?

Nope. I’ve underestimated the fandom. Wookieepeedia has just such a catalog, and informs us that the surface gravity on Dagobah is 0.9g. Combining this with the X-Wing mass and lift rate gives us our peak power output:

5300kg*0.9g*1.4meters3.6seconds=18.3kW

Community Comments

#1 Norm Feuti
July/20/2012
@ 11:05 am

“?.. the cartoonist that sat at the back of the class drawing to impress the girls”

Has that happened ever?

#2 Joe Engesser
July/20/2012
@ 11:47 am

It worked for Mark.

#3 Gerry Mooney
July/20/2012
@ 12:59 pm

I sat at the back of the class and drew just to annoy the nuns. And they’re sort-of girls, right? And “annoying” is a form of “impressing”, right? Right?

#4 b.j. dewey
July/20/2012
@ 7:17 pm

I no longer consider xkcd to be a nerd comic as I think it has long demonstrated an appeal beyond nerds. What I do think is special about it is that it’s a perfect example of the intelligence and freedom that a webcomic can represent. It’s a niche comic, yes, but it also transcends the niche.

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