xkcd’s Interstellar Memes Graphic, or Stellar Distance Measured by Age of Pop Culture Phrases

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xkcd’s Interstellar Memes Graphic

I love xkcd.com. It’s a thought-provoking, often hilarious, sometimes sobering stick figure strip. The strip was conceived by Randall Monroe, who describes himself thusly:

I’m just this guy, you know? I’m a CNU graduate with a degree in physics. Before starting xkcd, I worked on robots at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia. As of June 2007 I live in Massachusetts. In my spare time I climb things, open strange doors, and go to goth clubs dressed as a frat guy so I can stand around and look terribly uncomfortable. At frat parties I do the same thing, but the other way around.

This is a man after my own heart. I’m enough of a science geek I get the twisted science-oriented humor in his strips, as if they were inside jokes. One that caught my eye and gave me a good chuckle was the image above, titled “Interstellar Memes”. Often playing the amateur astronomy looking up at the night sky I’ve often wondered what, if any, of our transmitted media emanating from Earth has reached other star systems (ignoring the tedious inconveniences of initial signal strength and attenuation, solar and extra-solar electromagnetic interference and such). Interstellar Memes nicely correlates the age of certain well-known (and maybe not-so-well-known) phrases with the approximate distant stars they would be reaching.

For example, “Yabba Dabba Doo!”, from the Flintstones, is next to the star Castor (trivia: Castor is actually a quadruple star system), in the constellation Gemini. What does Castor have to do with the Flinstones? I’m glad you asked, because Fred Flintstone uttered his well-known shout 53 years ago, which just happens to be the approximate distance of the Castor system. Traveling at the speed of light it has taken Fred and his family, piggy-backed on a carrier wave in the 56-890 MHz electromagnetic spectrum that long to reach Castor.

For a larger version of the graphic above, you can go to xkcd’s site here. If nothing else, this might be an interesting party game to test your pop culture trivia knowledge. Doubtless it wouldn’t be much of a challenge for the cast of “The Big Bang Theory”, and you know they would argue the finer points of signal attenuation over long distances, gravitational lenses, proper motion of stellar bodies and so and so forth, but for those folks lacking neuroses it might just be fun. Be sure to check out xkcd’s other strips as well. They nicely demonstrate that Jack Kirby illustration style isn’t necessary to drive home a point or make you laugh.

About the Author

Bryan Eley
A senior software tester and network admin for a small hi-tech multimedia company that produces a number of online applications for several tech giants. Bryan got his professional start in PC technology when he discovered research PhDs in his second job out of college were not very computer savvy. The one upshot of working in that lab is that he met his future wife there, a fellow science geek as well. Bryan has been hooked on computers since his Commodore 64 days, when absurd amounts of was spent entering pages on machine language code for equally absurd simple games. Back in 2005 Bryan received an Axim X51v as a Christmas gift and he has been fiddling with mobile tech ever since. He recently joined the legions of iPhone enthusiasts where phones are concerned, but has dabbled with Blackberry, WebOS and Windows Phone OSes as well. When not busying himself with tech-oriented tasks Bryan likes spend time cooking (he has over 90 cookbooks, yet still jumps on the internet to find culinary info), reading, working in his garden, calligraphy, and spending time with his wife, two sons, two cats and a miscellaneous dog.

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