Every once in a while, a hoax or claim that’s so spectacularly absurd goes viral that even the most circumspect bystanders can be taken in. Yet science doesn’t stop being true just because some people refuse to accept it.
The beautiful thing about any scientific question is this: if you yourself become enough of an expert, you can figure out the answer for yourself. This ability to convince yourself of the truth, despite what any authority figure might say, is what separates science from all other endeavors. And with a round-Earth denying friend, that’s exactly what Michael Gratton wants from this week’s Ask Ethan:
“[I] have this friend who thinks and preaches the “flat earth” theory for a few years now, I don’t believe the planet or any is flat for that matter but what are your views on this topic/theory?”
The wonderful thing is it’s not a belief for me; it’s a conclusion.
Sure, we can do the simplest thing of all: go to space itself and photograph the Earth. Beginning in the 1940s, our rockets were capable of achieving high enough altitudes to photograph the curvature of the Earth directly. As we progressed further and further out, from sub-orbital heights to low-Earth orbit to great distances from Earth, we obtained better and better views of our planet, eventually seeing the entire thing at once.
We’ve even visited other worlds in the Solar System, using the gravitational influence of Earth and other worlds for gravity assists to help us get there. NASA’s Messenger probe took advantage of this a few years ago, snapping a series of photos as it flew by Earth, catching our very round planet rotating as it passed us by.
Prior to the 1940s, however, it wasn’t possible to tell the shape of Earth by leaving it and looking at it. Without the assistance of modern technology, it might seem impossible to answer this question, the same way you’d never be able to see your own eye color without a reflection, a photograph or other external sources of information. But we actually have a few pieces of evidence that tell us the shape of our planet that don’t require us to leave Earth and take a picture. Consider, for example, what happens when we have a lunar eclipse: when the Earth passes between the Sun and the Moon.
Read More: Here