It’s actually quite an interesting history, that is, mankind realizing the correct shape of the earth, how it spins, around what and why. Unfortunately in the world of conspiracy there’s been a topic in play for a while stating that the earth is flat and sitting still — yes, people even claim that today — rather than round and spinning through space. Worse than the people making these claims is the amount of people watching their videos, reading their articles and falling for the claim. This could be the most ridiculous theory put forth in the so-called “truther” community.
As well as the world seen through religious, esoteric, or spiritual eyes, the flat earth proposal is another ancient form of thinking brought back to the table and passed off as possible through the internet — usually by quoting the works of ancient thinkers who lacked the information of future generations that prove they were dead wrong. To the flat earther, the government, NASA, the Russian and Chinese space programs, etc., etc., are all lying to their respective populations to convince them that the earth is circular orb, when it actual fact it’s a flat disc. For what end I’m yet to find out. There seems to be no motive behind this massive lie, but the theory is still catching ears. Maybe this is a reflection of the unsurety of the generation living today, because there are plenty of lies and actual conspiracies going on everyday, so it’s hard to believe anything, especially views put forth in school textbooks, newspapers, TV and radio reports, or any other mainstream source of information, that we can take at face value. But the information we get through the science community, in my opinion, is by and large information that can be trusted. Science, ideally, is a system which calls for evidence to back its findings. If there is no evidence then the theory is strictly theoretical and is yet to be considered a true scientific theory, such as general relativity, the laws of motion and so on. The theory of the earth being an orb, as it happens, can be proven in many ways.
The easiest way is to simply look at the shadow the world casts on the moon; it’s curved. A flat disc would show a very different shadow indeed. But aside from that fact, flat earthers also claim the earth doesn’t move. According to them the sun, stars and moon — which are also flat discs — revolve around a flat stationary world, never the other the way around. What they don’t realize is that if that were the case, the sun would always be shining down and visible from every continent at all times, which means the shadow on the moon, which would appear drastically different than it actually looks, would appear the same every night.
A better way to see through the disinformation regarding the flat earth proposal is by understanding how we know planet earth is an orb — like all the other planets and moons in our solar system — that constantly spins in circles through space as it revolves around the sun in the first place. As I said, this is quite an interesting bit of history.
A Short History of Our Placement in the Universe, the Shapes of Planets and Stars, and The People Who Brought Us the Knowledge
For many thousands of years it was agreed by the powers that be, and therefore all those under them, that the world was flat and sat as the center of the universe. There have been many systems based on this presumption that, to the people who worked on them, made theoretical sense at the time of their proposals. But, and more important to our subject at hand, many ancient thinkers believed the world was a sphere far before we figured out the sun is the center of our solar system. We’ll start with the earliest known thinkers on the subject; The Babylonians.
During the time of the Old Babylonian Period — 2000-1600 BC — the land which was once ruled by Sumerian royalty was turned over to and then ruled by the Hammurabi Dynasty, named for the Semitic king Hammurabi who first conquered the land on the left bank of the Euphrates — 70 miles from what today is Baghdad. During these 400 or so years, a vast amount of clay tablets were made in the ancient cuneiform written language that tell us today what these primitives thought about the world around them and the stars in the sky above.
Because so many thousands of pristine tablets have been discovered in the ruins of the area, it is here we see our earliest model for the universe. We can see for ourselves that the Babylonians had star maps and calendars made up to track their days, months, and years, and were quite obsessed with tracking the objects hovering above their heads. Unlike other civilizations at relatively the same time, the Babylonians tracked not only the sun cycles, but the moon, planets and stars as well. To these ancients the objects above, such as the sun and moon, were the gods themselves looking down on them, providing them heat and light, cold and darkness, scarcity and abundance. Phenomena they witnessed in the sky they saw as omens, either good or bad. An eclipse, for instance, was written about by the Babylonians as a sign of coming drought and/or famine, not the moon blocking the light from the sun as we know it is today. Having these beliefs — and lacking the scientific instruments we have today — we can see there was no reason for the Babylonians to believe anything except that the ground they walked on was the center of the entire universe with the planets, stars, moon and sun circling just overhead. Therefore the earth was a flat plain, they thought. While they were ignorant to the facts we know now, their amazing work on the stars and planets were instrumental in the advancement that led to our current knowledge of the universe.
In 1100 BC, or so, the empire of Babylon fell to Assyrian rule. While the Assyrian conquerors wiped out basically everything about the Babylonian’s culture they could get their hands on, they didn’t destroy the many records the former civilization had made regarding the stars of the night sky. By 1000 BC it is recorded that the star-gazers in Babylon recognized 18 different constellations through which the sun, moon, and the planets moved — the first zodiac. They too, without the aide of the telescope, believed earth was a flat plain sitting at the bottom level, dead center, underneath the next level which consisted of the sun, moon, and planets, which were still gods and still floating in cycles just above their heads, and then above that rotated another level of fixed stars, holding the zodiac, which spun much slower. It isn’t a bad theory considering the lack of knowledge they had of the makeup of the universe; quite intuitive — it’s quite counter intuitive to think the world is an orb spinning at incredible speeds. In any event, this remained the same model for the universe by 464 BC, when the zodiac shrunk down to the 12 signs still recognized today. It’s important to note these ancients believed the zodiac had a direct impact on their health, fortune and well-being. Though they made brilliant strides in tracking and recording their positions, they had no idea what the stars were composed of at all, how far away they were, or what they were, and because they could only use the naked eye, they were only aware of 5 planets: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. The most important thing to take from this period of star tracking is these were the first people to notice that the stars moved with regularity — in some sort of pattern — and began to track and record these patterns. This was the first step in finding out the shape of our own world and the solar system and universe it’s a part of.
The Assyrians were conquered by the Persians, who carried on the work of tracking stars and recording their findings from Babylon, adding more mathematics to the picture and making accurate predictions for astronomical events. They in turn were conquered by Alexander the Great, starting the Hellenistic Period, a very important period to our knowledge and examination of the sky. Here the Greek thinker and first Greek astronomer Hipparchus used the work done by the former Babylonian star gazers and predicted the earth to be a sphere which spun on an axis to explain the motion of the stars. Some stars, as it happens, seem to travel in one direction for a portion of the year, and then at another portion they appear to go in reverse. Hipparchus concluded that the earth must be spinning and moving around an orbit to explain the apparent retrograde motion of the stars. Estimating that the planets — the brighter stars that followed a path different from the other stars — were like our planet. The sun, he thought, must be the center of the universe, not the earth. This was all the way back around 140 BC. Hipparchus’ work was largely ignored by his contemporaries and his writings are also now lost to us, though his theory would become famous through another man named Nicolaus Copernicus nearly 20 centuries later. Before Hipparchus, though, was another Greek named Aristotle, who all the way back in 350 BC proposed the universe functioned with earth being a sphere — the first to make the claim famous — at the center, another layer spun around the earth consisting of the sun and moon, another layer of planets above that, and a bunch of other layers on top of those made the visible stars, all of which — 55 layers in total, originally — spun uniformly. This model, inspired by his teacher, Plato, was extremely accurate in predicting the motion of most of the bodies in the sky and was accepted as fact for over a thousand years. It’s important to note that even though he was right about the world being round, Aristotle was dead wrong about everything else.
Aristotle was a huge influence on Ptolemy, another Greek thinker, this time from the second century AD. After extensive research on the work of the Babylonians and Aristotle, Ptolemy also thought the world had to be round. After all, the math and theory behind the idea predicted events year by year seamlessly. But unlike Hipparchus, and sticking with Aristotle’s line of thought, Ptolemy reinforced the notion that the earth was sitting still at the center of the universe with multiple layers of planets; the sun, the moon, and stars rotating around it, some of those rotations holding other rotations called epicycles which he felt explained the appearance of the retrograde motion of the stars. A key point Ptolemy pointed out to prove the earth is round is by showing that ships approaching on the horizon appear to be rising from under the water. This, he posited, was caused by the curve of the earth. It therefore must be round. This may be the first experimental evidence reported to support the round earth theory. It’s an undeniable and testable conclusion. This particular observation and similar ones were also recorded by a Greek philosopher named Strabo around 30 AD, who pointed out that elevated lights on the shore were visible to ships at a distance before sea-level lights on the same shore. This, he explained, was clearly due to the curving of the ocean. If the ocean were flat then the lower lights would be as visible as the elevated lights at the exact same time.
After this the Dark Ages came with the church — in an attempt to run the world through absolute authority — putting the kibosh on scientific exploration. The Bible was all people needed. It would be over 14 centuries before scientific discovery became a serious issue of study again. But either way, by now it was already a commonly held belief in nearly all cultures, based on the evidence, that the earth was a sphere, though it was agreed that the sun revolved around it, as the flat earthers today argue.
In 1519, 35 centuries after the Babylonians began recording the movement of the stars, the famous Portuguese explorer Magellan sailed with five other ships that ended up circling the entire world without falling off an edge. There was the direct proof to the long held theory that the world was, in fact, round. Unfortunately for Magellan, he never got to see it. He was killed in the Philippines by natives before the journey was finished. Just a few years later, Nicolaus Copernicus, who mastered the works of the ancient astronomers before him and tracked the stars nightly himself, published letters to his close friends of his theory which stated the round earth, along with the visible planets, which he postulated were also spheres, orbited around the sun, which sat at the center of everything. He cited the earth moved in three ways: on its axis, around the sun once a year, and it also tilted on its axis. Like Hipparchus before him, Copernicus showed that the only way to explain the apparent retrograde motion of the stars was to be viewing them from a moving earth. This was completely contrary to the model of the universe held to be true by the church, which was Aristotle’s system of an earth centred universe. After all, the Bible says several times that the earth cannot be moved, so the notion of our planet whizzing through space wasn’t only counterintuitive, but also heretical. Copernicus would later publish his work in a book called Dē revolutionibus orbium coelestium, a book that would become a fundamental catalyst for the scientific revolution. In it, Copernicus had mentioned the work of Hipparchus as an influence for his heliocentric model, but it was deleted before publishing.
Nearly a hundred years after that the Italian Galileo got his hands on a brand new invention: the telescope. In 1609 he pointed it at the sky and could see the brilliant sphere that is our moon as if it were a few feet away. He also saw Saturn, Jupiter and the round moons that orbited it. Since then, basically, we have all been free to look through a telescope ourselves to witness the shadows on the moon that clearly display its dimensions as an orb. We can also look at the planets of our solar system from home to prove to ourselves that they’re also spheres. We can even look at the sun through a filtered telescope and see that it too is a sphere. What is amazing is that before we had telescopes to see the planets and moons in our night sky, geniuses like Hipparchus used charts of the motion of the stars to conclude the correct theory, that is, that the earth and all of the other bodies in the sky are spheres which move in constant motion around the sun.
To reiterate, it goes against all rational lines of thinking to believe the earth is round. The people on the bottom should be falling off. It’s also seemingly unreasonable to think that the earth is constantly spinning at just over 1000 mph while it speeds at an additional 67,000 mph around the sun. We should all be flying off! The flat earther would agree, but that’s not the case. We’ll dissect these two lines of thought one by one. Firstly, the answer for why we don’t fall off the bottom of the world is simple: gravity. Through complex equations in a form of calculus he invented himself, Isaac Newton published his laws of motion and his law of gravity in his work Principia in 1687, which stated, to put it simply, that objects of mass attract each other. The earth is a massive object. We’re tiny in comparison, therefore according to Newton, we are constantly being pulled towards it. This is why when we jump we fall back down every time. Through this rationale Newton also explained why the moon orbits our earth and why every object in the sun’s vicinity revolves around it. Newton showed, to put it specifically, that any two bodies in the universe will attract each other with a force directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. Simply put, the bigger the object the stronger the force, the farther the distance the weaker the force; and vice versa. Einstein would come along later to completely rewrite gravity in his own way, but Newton’s square law still applies to prove our point here. Secondly, the reason birds don’t appear to fly backwards after they lift off the earth is because they, just like you and I, are travelling on top of the earth and are therefore travelling the same speed as it. Think of it this way: if you were sitting on a seat in a moving bus travelling at a constant speed and you dropped your pen to the ground below, the pen wouldn’t hit the ground behind you, it would fall directly beneath you. This is because the bus, you, and the pen are all traveling at the same speed. This is the same principle as why we can’t feel the earth spin; we’re travelling at the same speed as it, so relative to each other we are still. Galileo demonstrated this by dropping a ball from the mast of moving ship and showing that it hit the deck directly beneath him, not directly beneath the point in space it was dropped from, which would have been in the water far behind the ship by the time the ball fell the whole way. By demonstrating this, as anyone can do, it proves objects travelling on top of objects moving at a constant rate will stay put on top, just as we do on our spinning earth.
Another claim the flat earthers subscribe to is that all pictures of the earth from space are faked by NASA. This is quite a bogus claim as NASA isn’t the only organization to photograph our planet from space. The first people to do it — Captains Albert Stevens and Orvil Anderson of the US Army — did it in November of 1935. The project, which was the highest altitude reached by any human before — 72.3 thousand feet — was funded by National Geographic and brought back important information on our stratosphere, but more importantly the photos taken showed the curve of the earth. Then in 1946 a group of soldiers and scientists in New Mexico launched a V-2 missile 65 miles high that snapped even more pictures of earth and its true shape — round. The most famous image of earth is known as the Blue Marble, taken in December 1972 from 2 hours past earth’s atmosphere, which shows an incredible view of our planet completely lit up with the sun behind the photographers, Eugene Cernan, Ronald Evans, and Joe Engle of the Apollo 17 mission. It captures the earth correctly as a majestic looking sphere.
There is truth to the claim that some of NASA’s photos — and other space programs’ photos — of earth from space are edited and sometimes compiled together to make one shot out of many using computer programs, but this doesn’t mean they aren’t pictures of earth or made up graphics. They are simply edited to give the clearest picture possible of all details visible.
By no means have we gone over a complete history of astronomy or the elements that prove our planet’s shape and motion through space — not even close — but hopefully we have gone over enough to show that we — humans — know with confidence that a) the earth is a sphere, as are the sun, moon, and other planets; and b) the earth doesn’t sit still, it spins and orbits the sun with no pause — as well the sun revolves around our galaxy at incredible speeds and our galaxy rotates around other galaxies near to it, so add on those numbers to the speed earth moves. The flat earthers are wrong and their claims can be easily shown as so. Whether it’s just uneducated people, people looking for internet hits, or intentional disinformation, this is a subject that should be put to rest before it gains any further support. The history, science, and math all disagree with the proposal. Therefore so should we.
Most of the information from this article came from The Universe: From Ancient Babylon to the Big Bang (Book) By J.P McEvoy, which you can find in the C2T Store. It is an excellent read and provides a complete history of man’s study of astronomy.
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