Have you ever proved that the Earth isn’t flat? While Flat-Earthers are one of the more out-there conspiracy groups, it’s fun to disprove them with simple tests in your backyard. It has been scientific consensus for hundreds of years that the Earth is a near-perfect sphere. Bewildering as it may be, some people just refuse to believe the mountains of evidence proving a spherical Earth. It seems unlikely that anything will convince these believers of a different world-view. Maybe the existence of Flat-Earthers is a good reason to think critically about astronomy yourself, to actually understand why the Earth is round. Imagine we didn’t have those pictures from space. Would you believe in the round Earth then?
Many of the Flat-Earther’s convictions come from how flat the Earth seems from our perspective. Have you proven for yourself that the Flat-Earthers are wrong, or have you simply believed the pictures and professionals?
Fortunately, there are multiple easy tests you can perform at your home to prove that the Earth is, indeed, round. It can’t be that difficult to figure out if Aristotle proved the round Earth more than 2,000 years ago with few scientific instruments.
Stated so eloquently on The Flat Earth Society (TFES) website “The evidence for a Flat Earth is derived from many different facets of science and philosophy. The simplest is by relying on one’s own senses to discern the true nature of the world around us. The world looks flat, the bottoms of clouds are flat…these are all examples of your senses telling you that we do not live on a spherical heliocentric world.”
Without any greater evidence than one’s own experiences, it would be more excusable to believe the Earth is flat. I can walk as far as possible in a single direction and the ground and horizon will always appear flat to my eyeballs. That lived experience, in large part, is why this Flat Earth conspiracy theory has been so sticky throughout millennia. The shape of the Earth just doesn’t seem round. It is impossible to see the curvature of the Earth from ground level.
While most of us are convinced of the round Earth by the incredible NASA photos from space, Flat Earthers aren’t so easily swayed. These unusual people think photos from space are cleverly manipulated and that space travel is “the conspiracy“. In fact, TFES claims the spaceship that got men to the moon landing was actually a 6 billion dollar prop made from scotch tape and cardboard.
What about all those astronauts that have seen the round Earth spinning first hand? Well…just don’t believe them! “The most commonly accepted explanation of this is that the space agencies of the world are involved in a conspiracy faking space travel and exploration,” says TFES.
The history of the Flat Earth theory and its followers are comical at best, deadly at worst. It fits in with the disturbing trend of Americans believing in science less and less. The modern flat earth conspiracy starts in 1849 when Samuel Rowbotham published Zetetic Astronomy. This pamphlet and the follow up book, Earth Not a Globe published in 1865, illustrate the Zetetic version of our solar system, which I will explain later. His Zetetic Society promoted the Flat Earth conspiracy. Mr. Rowbotham also believed that the continents floated on top of the ocean and that a fire burned below these oceans. Wild stuff. How could huge continents made from billions of tons of rocks float?
About a century later Samuel Shenton created the International Flat Earth Research Society (later shortened to The Flat Earth Society, or TFES) in 1956 in Dover, England. This society gathered Flat Earth theorists together and promoted their wacky ideology. Charles K. Johnson took up the torch in the early ’70s and successfully fundraised to grow the society. The Flat Earth movement is still strong today, as exemplified by the annual Flat Earth Conference hosted recently in the cities of Denver and Dallas. A new documentary shows these believers in action.
TFES has a well-built-out Wiki and savvy social media that answers all your questions and curiosities about how the spherical Earth is a hoax. These conspiracy theorists, like many other conspiracy groups, use Youtube videos to spread their ideas. The most popular modern map of the Flat Earth derives from Zetetic Astronomy. It shows the North Pole as the center of the Earth with Antarctica as a ring around the edge of the coin-shaped Earth.
The 150-foot ice wall of Antarctica keeps the oceans from falling off the sides of the Earth, according to proponents of the theory. TFES claims “We live on a vast plane with an unknown diameter and an unknown depth. Dr. Samuel Birley Rowbotham held that knowing the true dimensions of the earth may be something that is forever unknowable by man.” This is allegedly because the land gets so cold past the Ice Wall that no man-made machines or humans could ever venture out there. We just may never know how far back that wall of ice goes. You would think the flat Earthers would be terrified of climate change since it could melt the ice wall that holds all of the oceans on our planet…
While the Flat-Earthers have a grand time ‘disproving’ facts here and there, they have a difficult time proving their ideas. Fortunately, since the Earth is actually round, it is easy to prove this from anywhere on the planet. Here are five simple ways that you can prove the round Earth from (or near) your home.
At least once every few years you can likely see a lunar eclipse from your backyard. A lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth is directly between the sun and the moon. This positioning causes the Earth to cast a shadow onto the moon. In a total lunar eclipse the Earth’s shadow completely covers the moon. This shadow darkens the moon’s surface.
The shape of the Earth’s shadow on the moon during lunar eclipses is always spherical. This is because the Earth is round and a round object casts a round shadow. Try it with a dark room, a flashlight, and an orange or a ball. You will have a tough time getting a non-spherical shadow out of the ball.
Now try the same activity with a dinner plate. You will notice that it is much easier to make shadows that are shapes other than round. If the Earth were flat and shaped like the dinner plate, the Earth’s shadow during a lunar eclipse would often be one of these non-round shapes. It could be oval or even just a thick line. This has never happened.
The Flat-Earth community attempts to address this hole in their theory through some creative arguments. Some flat earthers believe that there is an undetectable celestial body, not the Earth, between the sun and moon that casts a shadow on the moon. This object is the antimoon or the sadow object.
If you have a telescope, you can often see one of our solar system’s planets in the sky at night. Mars and Venus are the most frequent visitors to our night sky, but all the other planets become visible depending on their position in the solar system. Through your telescope, you will notice that every one of these planets is perfectly round. If they were all coin-shaped like the Flat Earth model, then it would be very unlikely that their flat face would always perfectly face our Earth. Similar to the dinner planet example from above, you would expect that we would occasionally see Mars or Venus in orientations other than their flat faces if they were flat. For that matter, we would expect to see the sun and moon in different orientations as well. We don’t. They are always round.
Now, the Flat-Earthers claim that our planet is special and different from all other observable planets in our solar system. “The Earth is a fundamentally different kind of body; a plane rather than a planet, much like how a basketball court is a fundamentally different kind of body to the basketballs which bounce on top of it. The Solar System sits in a layer above the plane of the Earth,” says TFES. To them, the Earth is the center of the universe and everything happens above it. That’s a very self-centered worldview if you ask me.
Gravity pulls objects towards the center of an object. Since our Earth is round, the center of the object is the middle of the sphere of the Earth. This means that gravity pulls all objects straight down towards that central core. From our perspective, that direction is straight down. If our planet was flat than gravity would similarly pull all objects towards the middle of the Earth. However, under the Flat-Earth model, this middle is the North Pole rather than the center of a sphere.
This means that, unless you were at the North Pole, objects would hit the ground slightly north from where they were dropped. This effect would become more pronounced the higher up an object is dropped. If a ball is dropped from three feet high, the Arctic gravitational pull would only have three feet of height to pull the ball northwards. If the same ball is dropped from ten feet, that gravitational pull has seven more feet of falling to act upon the ball to land further north than when the ball is dropped from three feet. At 20 feet the gravitational effect would pull the ball further north and so on. Get a ladder out and drop the ball from different steps. If it isn’t an absurdly windy day, you will notice the ball drops straight down from each ladder step. If you dropped it from the top of a skyscraper, it would also drop straight down. That’s because our Earth is round.
Secondly, the gravitational pull from the Arctic on a Flat Earth would be stronger in the southern hemisphere compared to the northern hemisphere. As you move further from the center of gravity on the Flat Earth, objects dropped from the same height at increasingly southern latitudes would experience more displacement northwards. If you have a friend in Australia or South America, call them to ask if objects fall straight down. They do!
Have you ever wished that the day wasn’t over and chased the warm sun’s rays up a hill during a sunset? If you have hills or mountains to your East that are visible from your neighborhood, watch them during the sunset. Once the sun rays disappear from your block, look up towards those hills. They will still be basking in the late sunlight. As the sunset progresses, you will see the line of light marching up towards the tops of the hills. This rising line of light happens because our Earth is round.
This effect is similar to the classic ship sailing off in the distance. If a ship sailed off onto a flat ocean, you would see the entire ship disappearing into a pinpoint. Instead, what happens is the ship seems to ‘sink’ into the ocean. This is because as the ship voyages across the curvature of the Earth, you aren’t able to see the bottom of the hull as it moves away.
The hill example is more or less the same effect but backward. As the sun retreats around the horizon, an observer from the top of the hill can see the top of the sun for longer (and therefore, the top of the hill has light for longer) because that observer can see further around the curvature of the Earth.
Perhaps the most simple way to disprove the flat earth is to experience darkness at night. Our nights are dark because half of our Earth is always facing the sun and half faces deep, dark space. The sun is nowhere to be seen at night because it is on the other side of the globe. As our globe spins, the side that was in night rotates to face the sun.
Flat earthers have a hard time describing why the sun disappears completely at night. If the Earth were flat and it was both night and day at the same time somewhere on the planet (which it always is), than the sun would need to be above the coin-shaped Earth 100% of the time. If the sun was above any part of this flat earth it would be visible from everywhere on the Earth. It wouldn’t simple disappear because it was above the other part of the coin. Afterall, we see the sun from 93 million miles away, so we would certainly be able to see it if it moved 10,000 miles to illuminate the other part of the flat Earth. And the sun wouldn’t be much dimmer if that were the case.
Flat earthers have some unconvincing ways to explain night. They think that the sun is a tiny, 32-mile wide object that moves just 3,000 miles above the Earth like a spotlight of a lighthouse. An object this big wouldn’t produce the necessary energy to warm our planet and bring life to all the plants upon it. It also would never drop below the horizon completely.
Now that you know how to prove the Earth is round, you may feel equipped to convince a Flat-Earther that they are mistaken. Good luck. It would probably be more fun to hear them out than to try and argue with them. I had quite a comical time scrolling TFAS website and watching the youtube videos from these conspiracy theorists. In reality, you probably won’t meet a flat Earther. They aren’t that common. Either way, it’s a fun brain exercise to challenge what you know to be right, even if it is something as basic as the shape of our own planet.