The Space & Beyond Blog
Why Earth is not flat | The Flat Earth Conspiracy
The flat Earth conspiracy debunked
The flat Earth conspiracy varies, but usually involves a large disc shaped world with a relatively tiny sun and moon circling above it like lamps above a table. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, flat earthism was primarily motivated by biblical literalism. This remains the position of many flat earthers today. Left to itself without divine intervention, a disc world would collapse under its own gravity forming a sphere like other planets, large moons, and stars.
The Flat Earth Conspiracy Debunked
The flat Earth conspiracy bases its arguments on perceived flaws in mainstream science, while ignoring major problems with its own claims. Flat earth models do not explain the broad range of natural phenomena that are well explained by the modern scientific understanding of the globe and its place in our solar system. Flattening the globe would also severely distort the shapes of oceans and continents and the distances between them. If the world were actually flat, then we’d be able to see the same night sky from anywhere on Earth. However, we know that in the Southern Hemisphere it is a completely different sky filled with foreign constellations compared to the ones that we see here in the Northern Hemisphere.
Why do people think the Earth is flat?
Flat Earth conspiracy advocates rely upon made-up excuses and inventive forces to explain away the problems of their model. They claim that light, perspective, and gravity work differently than we understand from the evidence of science and our senses. Many claim that gravity does not exist at all. Furthermore, flat earthers claim that all images of the globe are fraudulent inventions and all testimony from astronauts is false.
Proof the Earth is Round
The globe has been understood for thousands of years. This was one of the first cosmic facts to be worked out correctly by ancient people because evidence of a spherical Earth is visible to the naked eye. Sailors noticed that the sails of approaching ships appeared before the hulls of the ships became visible, because the surface of Earth is slightly curved like the surface of an enormous ball. By the time of the philosopher Socrates and his student Plato many Greeks understood that Earth could only be a sphere. Later, Plato student’s Aristotle offered further evidence to support his own conclusions that Earth must be spherical.
Then, there was evidence from Lunar Eclipses. When the Moon passes through the shadow of Earth that shadow is always the circular shadow of a sphere. An ancient scholar named Eratosthenes, the head of the famous library of Alexandria in Egypt, even correctly approximated the circumference of Earth using experimental measurements of shadows in two cities and some rudimentary geometry.
A sequential view of a lunar eclipse shows Earth’s shadow crossing the face of the Moon. The shadow’s shape is curved because Earth is spherical. Source: NASA/Bill Ingalls
Everyone on every part of the Earth’s surface feels a roughly equal gravitational pull straight down toward their feet, which only makes sense on a globe. Gravity pulls everyone down for the planet’s center of mass. Gravity would feel very different on a flat earth. A disc world’s center of mass would not be located straight down from most parts of the surface. People on the outer edge of a flat Earth would experience gravity pulling them at a different angle.
The debate about the shape of Earth has literally been settled for over 2,000 years. It is unreasonable to dismiss all the evidence from the entire history of space exploration. The evidence for a spherical Earth is overwhelming. Most obviously there are many thousands of images and videos of Earth from space, including a continually changing livestream view of the globe from the International Space Station (ISS). Not to mention, all of the astronauts who have personally seen Earth from orbit.
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The curvature of the Earth is visible in this 2014 photo, which ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti snapped from the International Space Station. Source: NASA/Samantha Cristoforetti
Flat Earthers vs Scientists
Believing that Earth is flat requires not only a worldwide conspiracy to fake decades of space exploration, but also the wholesale denial of many branches of science and the evidence. It requires invention of new forces and laws of nature without evidence. Despite the rising prominence of flat Earth ideas there has never been any scientific evidence to help back up the claim. Advocates simply assume the “obvious truth” of a flat Earth on the basis of religious faith, intuition, or humor and then invent a reality to match. Although surprisingly frustrating, the flat earthers theory does nothing to change the simple fact definitively proven for centuries: we live on the surface of a globe.