The Earth Is Round. Essay on Concepts About the Earth Shape


An age old concept; a spherical Earth. It is popularly believed that Christopher Columbus, the famous explorer who had allegedly “discovered” the Americas, was also responsible for discovering the curvature of the earth. This is false. In fact, the concept of a round, or spherical Earth had been proposed by early Greek philosophers, but evidence upon such claims were nothing more than speculations, until Aristotle had provided some around 350 BC. Regardless, recent concerns have arisen concerning whether or not that the earth is flat, contrary to what is popularly taught and recognized by most  (if not all) prominent scientists. There are various theories that range from a myriad of possibilities; some are akin to the machinations of a science fiction novel, while others are backed by the very science it rejects. 

The birth of the spherical Earth dates back to 500 BC, when Pythagoras had presented the idea after observing that if the moon is round, the the earth must also be round (an ideal that is still held true today). Later on, a man by the name of Anaxagoras had observed that the moon’s phases were caused by the shadow of the earth on the moon, shadows that were circular in shape. Then, Plato’s student, Aristotle had made an observation. In his book, On The Heavens. He observed that a certain set of stars, or constellations, can be visible from Egypt, but at the same time, be invisible from a region north of Egypt, which is something that isn’t possible on a flat earth. Another observation that could be made with the moon’s phases is when the appearances of the phases differ depending upon where it is being observed from, rather than it being visible at the same phase simultaneously around the world. This is among one of the simplest and earliest experiments conducted, and is as simple as looking outside at night.

When one relies on their senses purely to make a conclusion about something, thats whats known as an empirical approach (as described briefly in the previous paragraph). This approach is also prominent with the “flat earthers;” they argue that, if someone looks directly outside, or when someone is in a plane, they should easily be able to see the curvature of the earth. When lack thereof is presented, they are quick to say that the earth is flat. The issue with this is that when someone is standing on any given area of a large sphere, they are at the center of it. This means that the horizon will disappear at an equal point from all directions, thus appearing to be flat. This is the same for a plane, or any airborne vehicle for that matter.

In order to start seeing a proper curvature, one would have to be approximately 35,000 feet (or 6.2 miles) in a cloudless sky. To be able to see an absolute curvature, one would have to leave the atmosphere, and observe the earth entirely. Another explanation against this approach is when one stands at the coast of an ocean; If the earth were to be flat, they should, by all means, be able to see the land on the other side of the ocean, especially with a powerful enough telescope. However, this is not the case, as the land across the ocean  dips below the curvature.  

Another early experiment to prove the curvature of earth was conducted by Greek scientist, Eratosthenes(276-194 BC). After receiving information from Syene, a city in Egypt. The note had stated that on a solstice, a vertical object wouldn’t be able to cast a shadow. He thought this to be false because in Alexandria, a vertical would cast a shadow. This had made him curious, which led to him measuring the length of the shadow to determine the angle the sun had made with the vertical object. Stemming from this, was the belief that the earth was in fact not flat, but round, as opposed to the common ideology of the time.

His curiosity taken further into questioning the circumference of the planet; which he had produced near-perfectly. He took the angle of the shadow, which measured out to 1/50th of a circle, or 7.2 degrees. He then measured the distance in between Alexandria and Syene, which he had determined to be 5,000 stadia (he paid someone to travel and measure the distance), which measures to about 800(497 miles) kilometers. By plugging in the numbers into a simple equation, he had determined that the earth was about 40,000 KM, compared to the satellite data collected by NASA, as well as other space organizations from other countries that measured the earth to be around 40,075 KM. As with the nature of any great experiment, it is repeatable. one could easily recreate this experiment, especially with modern amenities. In fact, it has been repeated. Not only has it been repeated, it is a common tradition for Greek schools to do so. It has since then yet to be proven inaccurate, through using the same methods. Through this experiment, Eratosthenes had unequivocally proved that the earth was round, and also produced a very precise measurement of the circumference of the earth

One of the prominent experiments used by the “flat earthers” is the bedford level experiment. The bedford level experiment is an experiment conducted by the recognized (not official, as The Flat Earth Society began its roots posthumously) president of the Flat Earth Society, Samuel Birley Rowbotham in 1838. He would conduct the experiment like so: he would be in the water, and peering through a telescope, while another boat drifted six miles away drifts away. According to his hypothesis, if the earth had been round, the ship should’ve fallen around eleven feet below the line of sight. Now, the primary issue with this experiment was that it has used an inadequate amount of land for the experiment. Using the measurements from Eratosthenes experiment, he measured only a 7.2 degree tilt, within the range of 487 miles! Further math would provide that the measurement of 68 miles (or 111 kilometers) would only provide one degree of the earth’s curvature (giving a eight inch drop per degree). Furthermore, the bedford level experiment only took place on a 6-mile surface, which only provides 1/11th of a degree of tilt (which would then only provide a 4.7 inch tilt), which is almost one 4000th of the full 360 degrees of a circle. Another issue with the Bedford level experiment lies within the opponent of the experiment at the time. A man by the name of Alfred Russel Wallace and a seemingly friendly bet of 500 pounds, to prove the world was round. 

An ad had been placed in the newspaper by Rowbotham, promising 500 pounds to whoever could prove the earth was round. Wallace, at the time, wasn’t very fortuitous with his income; so he thought this to be an easy win. Upon observing the experiment in detail, he had realized that there were some crucial mistakes with it. Wallace had utilized what’s called a density gradient, in order to first prove that Rowbotham was in fact seeing a mirage, as a result of the light being bent by the density gradient. After deeming the Bedford level experiment ineffective, he devised an experiment of his own: through setting a series of discs across the Bedford river, and observing them from the bridge. If successful, the middle disc would be seen higher than the other ones in the set. As expected, the three primary participants of the competition Rowbotham,  a mutually agreed referee, and Wallace, saw that the middle disc was higher than the other two. Though Wallace had won, the man offering the money- a man by the name of John Hampden- Had nitpicked a small detail involving the crosshairs (scope) of the telescope. Even after the referee had confirmed that his observation was irrelevant, Hampden was persistent in being correct; this led to two decades of legal hostility between the two.

Several hundred years later, within the first century (AD) A man by the name of Al-Biruni, an Iranian polymath (one who is well educated in a wide variety of studies), had discovered a method of measuring the radius of the earth; with only three things: An astrolabe, a mountain with a flat plain in front of it, and knowledge of trigonometry. The first step was to calculate the height of the mountain. To accomplish this, he used an astrolabe to gather the two different angles of the mountain top, upon a straight line. From here, the distance between these two were measured. Afterwards, Biruni had plugged the numbers into a trigonomic ratio used to calculate height. Then, he had to find the angle of the dip from the mountain to the flat plains at the bottom. His measurements had produced a large triangle that linked the flat surface, the mountaintop, and the center of the earth. Plugging in the measurements into yet another trigonometric equation would then yield the radius of the earth. The results given were very precise to the now-known measurements of the earth; 6335.725 KM for the radius, compared to 6,371 KM of the actual measurement. As for the circumference, he had produced a result that was within 200 miles of the circumference of the earth, a measurement of 24, 901 miles. Although this method yielded spectacular results, there are some scholarly debates about the validity of the experiment. However, many issues lie within the interpretation of the data, as opposed to the method used. 

Another misconception that is prevalent about the earth’s shape is that in the Middle Ages, the concept of a spherical earth was still widely unknown. From this, the popular theory of Columbus’ monumental discovery (the earth’s shape) was born. The story tells of the brave Italian explorer who had defied all belief and discovered the curvature of the earth, as well as the Americas. When, in reality, Columbus didn’t discover anything; instead, he horribly miscalculated the size of Earth, making it out to be much smaller than it actually was. So, instead of the world believing that he would fall off the edge of the earth, they instead called him out on his miscalculations, and stated that he would run out of materials before reaching Asia, which would simply put his entire crew stranded out in the sea. Essentially, Christopher Columbus provided nothing to the advancement of modern ideals, in regards to the proving of a round Earth. A few decades later, a man by the name of Ferdinand Magellan completed the world’s first circumnavigation (a full sail around the diameter of earth) starting from Spain, sailing through South America (via the Straits of Magellan; a sea route that directly connects the Pacific and Atlantic oceans). While he was unfortunately killed on April 27th, 1521 in the Philippines, one of his ships had continued to sail back to Spain-completing the trek. 

Perhaps one of the most renowned proponents of the flat Earth theory is the collective group of people called: “The Flat Earth Society.” Which saw its origins with a man by the name of Samuel Birley Rowbotham (previously accredited for the Bedford level experiment), who is known for his publication of Zetetic Astronomy: Earth Not a Globe; a book that also introduced the popular flat Earth model, where the north pole is at the center of the earth, which is a large, disc-like surface surrounded by an ice wall. Additionally, this model also depicts the sun and moon to be in an elliptical motion above the planet. After Samuel’s death, his wife, Lady Elizabeth Blount, had continued his legacy with a magazine titled: The Earth Is Not A Globe review. This program had remained consistent until WWI (World War One) comes around, and would be continued with the definitive birth of the Flat Earth Society in the 1950s; by a man named Samuel Shenton; who had managed to amass a few hundred members. After Shenton’s death, and his replacement by Charles Kenneth Johnson, a man who would be popular into the late 20th century, because of his intransigent stance that the earth was flat. Under Johnson, the Flat Earth Society had expanded into a group with thousands of members.

Another theory that can be intertwined with the flat earth is the moon landing conspiracy, which questions whether or not the moon landing of Apollo 13 happened, or was just filmed in a movie studio. The relevance in the moon landing with the shape of the earth is obvious: those who landed on the moon were able to observe the curvature, and whether the earth was a sphere. This alone should be enough to rest the debate as to whether the earth was flat or not. However, In dire situations like this, the Flat Earth Society (as well as other conspiracy theorists), the best thing to do was to deny the occurrence of any such event. Even today, the Flat Earth Society continues to deny the discoveries NASA has made. Johnson gave a short statement in regards to these discoveries: "You can't orbit a flat earth," Johnson told Robert J. Schadewald for Science Digest in 1980. "The Space Shuttle is a joke—and a very ludicrous joke."(Lewis)  

Claiming that the moon landing was faked is Simply put, the lighting and the coverup of the scam would be impossible to handle. The lighting required would exceed the budget of the project, and maybe even the budget of the entire country. The coverup would be impossible to manage, especially with the nature of the space race against the Soviet Union at the time. 

Another issue concerning the interference of NASA is the validity of the photos, as they openly express that their photos are photoshopped, which can lead to flat earthers believing that every single aspect of the photo is doctored, and therefore completely false. This argument is weak, since photoshop can encompass a myriad of terms, as it is by definition, the altering of an image, normally through use of a computer software to do so. It also lacks any logical reasoning behind it. There is no reason why a multi-billion dollar government organization would openly admit to be participating in something so scandalous. In fact, NASA frequently photoshops their images, but they're only enhancements made to improve either the general quality or to make things that are normally invisible by the human eye observable. 

A major weakness of the flat Earth theory is its lack of consistency. The spherical Earth is straightforward and there are a unanimously agreed upon set of criteria and explanations that diverge from the main idea. On the other hand, the flat earthers advocate a great deal of things. There are a wide spectrum of beliefs. For example, One flat earther may assert that there is an ice wall that is heavily guarded by NASA and other such organizations; while another may claim that the earth is an infinite plane. Some theories even assert that the earth is like a large Pac-Man game where anyone would instantly end up on the other side of the “map” (or plane), upon travelling far enough. Beyond these inconsistencies also lie disputes among the people who believe in this theory. It is very common to see one flat earther call out another for either a poor, or a misinformed bit of information aimed to convince someone else into believing non-globularism. 

There also lies an issue with the model of the flat Earth. One of the many problems with said model is that the sun, even from the farthest point from it, will never set in any given location; it remains in the sky, and therefore is still visible. In a Youtube video published by youtuber Wolfie6020, he recreates the view from Australia, using a drone going in a circular motion, with a ping-pong ball attached to it. He scaled down the rotation and set a camera in a hole in the ground, which was proportionally below surface level; as the drone took its orbit, the ping pong ball attached remained visible throughout the entire video. This experiment proved that the primary model is inaccurate, as the sun never disappears beyond the horizon. In another youtube video, published by youtuber GreatSapien, he excellently sets up his point by proposing a few axioms. He points to the fact that on Earth, the sun moves 15 degrees each hour, no matter where the sun is being observed from. He then states that on a flat Earth model, the angles vary depending upon the difference from the sun’s circular rotation on the earth, in places that aren't in or close to the perfect center (north pole) of the earth such as South Africa or Columbia. This argument is one of the simpler ideas, but quite effective. By using axioms, disputing his methods or his data given would be hypocritical. He also used sources that were approved by the flat earthers as well, meaning that his sources were unbiased, and therefore irrefutable.  

The idea of a round Earth had been around- and thrived- for two millenia, and through those years, thousands of scientists, philosophers, polymaths, mathematicians, any many more. have backed and proven the theory. Conversely, there is the flat Earth theory, an idea that has been around for longer than the round Earth, but has been proven to nothing but false and primitive in today’s society. The Flat Earth Society is one of the most prominent groups of people that still advocate the ancient ideal. Beyond those who are directly involved in the society are those who still support the idea, but also have myriad of explanations that are divergent from the mainstream concepts of the flat Earth. Amongst the inconsistencies, there’s also disputes within the entire community itself. Conclusively, the idea of a round Earth is logically stable, and more than substantially backed by facts and science. While, on the other hand, a flat Earth is inconsistent and goes against years and years of science.

 

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