Curve of the Earth

The top of Mount Rainier seen from Canada on a clear day.

Recently, I chatted with a man who trims my trees. As we talked about nature, I discovered he once believed the earth was flat. True, you can’t easily see the curvature in the earth from atop a tree. While in a tiny minority, he is not the only one to hold that belief.

Boston Celtics and Wheaties box-cover star Kyrie Irving also has issues with a spherical earth. Thanks to him, some young fans have started believing the flat-earth myth. Fortunately, two comments by Irving, “They lie to us” and “The evidence is right in front of us,” lead us to what proves flat Earthers wrong. We will need to get off the basketball court.

Let’s start with the mind-boggling size of the conspiracy needed to put a spherical-versus-flat earth over on the public. At this point, 556 astronauts have personally seen the earth’s curvature from space. Many more pilots, from the USSR/Russia, USA, France, Italy, Japan, England, India, China and more have been high enough to see the curvature. A couple of those people were private citizens who paid millions for the opportunity to see the earth from space. In on the hoax?

Since the 1960s almost everyone has seen pictures of the earth as a sphere. So someone modified millions of pictures and video frames — without Photoshop. The number of people involved in building and launching humans and robots to take pictures? Hundreds of thousands — all in on the hoax?

Every airline pilot and co-pilot, every air traffic controller, everyone involved in building airliners that travel over a curved surface instead of a flat surface and calculating fuel use — in on the hoax? For some reason, most flat-earth maps have the North Pole in the center. So, every airline passenger who has flown from Argentina to Australia and didn’t arrive two days late — in on the hoax? Maybe that’s why only two people showed up at this year’s Australian flat-earth-society meeting.

Greek philosopher Eratosthenes calculated the circumference of the Earth in 240 BC. He was off by less than 15 percent. He wasn’t off by whether the earth was flat or not. That discussion had occurred at least four centuries earlier. Sailors probably had always known.

Irving could do some science and prove it to himself right now. He only needs to walk down to Boston Harbor and watch a ship sail out over the horizon. The ship’s bottom will disappear first, essentially hidden by the Earth’s curve. Or, he could rent a boat and motor out with his friends and watch the Boston skyline slowly disappear — from the bottom up. People in Utah can essentially do the same thing on land. Ever drive toward mountains and see them rise up in front of you? But the ocean makes a perfect case because people intuitively understand water’s “flatness.”

A modern twist on an ancient Greeks’ approach: put a ruler on the ground and measure the shadow. Call a friend who lives hundreds of miles away to the West and ask him to do the same. The length of the shadow will be different. Shadows on a flat Earth would be the same. Or, just ask someone “on the other side of the world” if it is day or night where he or she is sitting.

The main driver for the anti-spherical people seems to be paranoia; the “Earth is a sphere” is a giant, 2,200-year-old conspiracy to control people. Why we (yup, I must be in on it), of all things, would choose a spherical Earth as a hoax has never been clear to me.

Unfortunately, if people cannot believe a potentially counter-intuitive, but easily provable, idea like “The Earth is a Sphere” then how can they handle more complicated scientific principles? And, that attack on science, it seems, is the flat-Earther’s point. Mike Hughes, who recently flew a homemade rocket to “prove the flatness of earth,” said “I don’t believe in science…This is the king of deceptions…Once this domino falls…the [whole] structure falls.”

Hughes didn’t go very high — but did live, fortunately. Soon he can go high enough without building his own rocket. Virgin Galactic and Blue Origins both hope to lift humans up to an altitude where they can see Earth’s shape and experience some low gravity. It will be expensive, unfortunately, but maybe Hughes can get some help. Kylie Irving should take Hughes and some other flat Earthers. Irving could afford it. His salary is out of this world.

Dr. David Ferro is dean of the College of Engineering, Applied Science & Technology at Weber State University. Twitter: DavidFerro9.

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