More Scientific Than Thou

MSNBC has worked hard to be the official TV channel of the "reality-based community" which so often lectures us skeptics on how we are all anti-science and stuff.     (source)

The author of XKCD has a site now that answers odd science questions.  Here is mine:  If, at a mass of over 200 pounds, Felix Baumgartner was indeed be accelerated faster than light and pointed at the Earth, what would happen?

Isaac Asimov has a short story mystery something like this, with a pool ball accelerated to light speed.


  1. Uncle Bill:

    Don't tease us - where is the XKCD site? And by the way, do you have any idea what XKCD stands for?

  2. Jim Furey:


  3. 0ptimist:

    He more or less addressed this in the first What-if:

  4. 0ptimist:

    It doesn't stand for anything:

  5. Bram:

    Charles. Pellegrino had a disturbing story on the same topic - "The Killing Star"

  6. Bram:

    If he had struck the Earth at .95c with 150 Kg of man and spacesuit, the energy release would have been in the gigaton range. Pretty sure we wouldn't be talking about it.

  7. obloodyhell:

    It's a great site, lots of snarky, subversive humor. Some of the jokes may be too technical or mathematical for you to care, assuming you don't know much math, but not too many. But they ARE generally the type of things that make you THINK about something.

  8. AngusS-F:

    Although xkcd may not stand for anything, it is interesting that adding up x+k+c+d (24+11+3+4) = 42.

  9. obloodyhell:

    There's a photo out on the web somewhere where randall munroe (the creator) supposedly wrote out a check to Verizon that used e^(pi*i) in the numeric field. In the memo section he wrote: "What now, bitches?"

    I believe this was back on that flap about someone owing a few pennies, and the amount he was paying was that amount described in terms of e^(pi*i)

    And if none of that makes any sense to you, don't worry... just expect about one in 10 or so to be similarly obscure. But if you look it up on wiki, you'll learn something new, assuming you like that.

    Randall is both smart AND uniquely creative -- an unusual confluence of talents.

    Here's a good example, where he defends the TV show Mythbusters

  10. Tom Nally:

    The mass of a 200-lb man would be W/g, or 6.25*lbs*(sec^2)/foot. Since a "slug" is 1*lb*(sec^2)/foot, the man's mass would be 6.25 slugs.

  11. Dan: regards to MSNBC Felix Baumgartner was accelerated to a speed faster than the speed of thought. But since this speed is in relation to MSNBC that is still quite slow.

  12. epobirs:

    I'm pretty sure it would be very bad news just to have a man-sized mass pass through the atmosphere at greater than c.

    The Schwarzenegger movie Eraser had a similar problem. It featured weapons that supposedly accelerated aluminum slugs to near light-speed. This would be akin to the Ultimate Nullifier in the Fantastic Four comics, that would kill anything but at the cost of the user's life as well. You wouldn't want to be anywhere near where that weapon was being fired. You'd need a well shielded robotic platform to make it a useful weapon.

    I recall a paper by a physicist analyzing the movie Independence Day. He calculated just the effect of those fifteen mile wide ships aero-braking would be sufficient to sterilize the surface of the whole planet without need to fire any weapons.

  13. John VI:

    Dont be silly. If he travelled faster than the speed of light, time would have diallated and he would have passed the earth as we rotated out of the way. Though I suppose gravity may have thrown in a little complication, It may well have put him into perpetual orbit, forever trapped travelling faster than the speed of light. This, of course, would have dramatically heated up the earths atmosphere, thus proving once and for all that anthropomorphic global warming occurs, since felix, being anthropomorphic himself was the direct cause of the heating.

  14. perlhaqr:

    Well, it would be a really bad day for Felix, that's for sure.