Theories of Gravity

Gravity is a natural phenomenon by which all things with mass or energy are brought toward one another. Today, gravity is explained by two theories: Newton’s law of universal gravitation and Einstein’s general relativity.

Flat-Earthers treat the existence of the two theories as a supposed conflict, and they use it as “evidence” of wrongdoing. In reality, these are two separate theories that explain the phenomenon of gravity. Einstein’s is more accurate yet more complex. In contrast, Newton’s is simpler but less accurate. Despite having been superseded, Newton’s gravity continues to be used as an excellent approximation of the effect of gravity in most applications.

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Cult of Personality Accusations

Flat-Earthers like to accuse that science accepts ideas due to the cult of personality toward the people behind the ideas. In reality, science accepts ideas because of their merits, not because of the identity of the people behind the ideas.

Isaac Newton is considered one of the most influential scientists ever. But we have no problem saying that some of his ideas were just plain wrong and not scientific.

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Assumption for Simplification in Scientific Models

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When creating scientific models of complex phenomena, we simplify things by reducing them to as simple a form as possible to make the calculations more feasible and less complex. Common simplifications include assuming objects as spheres, things exist in a vacuum, frictionless pulleys, massless ropes, and a flat Earth.

Flat-Earthers noticed that some scientific journals use a flat Earth in their models, and they use it as “evidence” the authors knew Earth is flat. In reality, it is just an assumption used in the models to simplify the calculation. It does not imply the Earth is flat.

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Horizontal Motion of Smoke

The horizontal motion of a rising smoke occurs due to the horizontal motion of air relative to the object releasing the object. If the air is stationary relative to the object releasing the smoke, then the smoke will rise straight upward.

Flat-Earthers claim the motion of smoke rising straight up “proves” Earth is stationary. In reality, the horizontal motion of smoke is caused by the motion of surrounding air, relative to the object releasing the smoke, not the motion of the object itself.

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Misconception about the Second Law of Thermodynamics

In an online lecture, an MIT professor explained the second law of thermodynamics. One of his examples is a container filled with gas next to another filled with a vacuum. If the wall is removed, the gas will rush to fill the newly available volume. However, it is only a simple model that does not attempt to explain everything about the system.

Flat-Earthers abuse the lecture to “prove” it is “impossible” for the atmosphere to exist next to a vacuum. It becomes a flat Earth talking point as if the lecture shows us that spherical Earth “violates” the second law of thermodynamics. In reality, the gas inside the container is also affected by gravity and will also have a pressure gradient, just like the gas outside. But it is not within the scope of the lecture.

And if we ask the lecturer if Earth is flat, he will surely say no.

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Weight and Air Density Experiment

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Using a precise digital kitchen scale and a smartphone with a pressure sensor, we can easily measure the change in weight and atmospheric pressure in different locations.

Flat-Earthers claim that an object falls down because it is denser than the air surrounding it. However, simple measurements show that things weigh less at a higher altitude where the air is less dense, contrary to the expectation if their claim is true.

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Light Scattering Demonstration Using Laser Pointers

Flat-Earthers cannot understand why space appears dark if the Sun is in space, and they use their ignorance to discredit science.

In reality, sunlight does travel through space. However, space is a vacuum, and there is nothing to scatter and redirect the light toward our eyes like in Earth’s atmosphere. We can demonstrate the phenomenon using a low-powered red and green laser pointer in clean air.

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The sky appears practically identical to all observers on Earth, except that the Earth obstructs the view to a different part of the sky to a different observer on Earth, and daylight obscures the view to most objects in the sky.

The fact that the sky appears identical everywhere on Earth can only be adequately explained if all the astronomical objects are very far from us and that the Earth is a sphere.

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Hovering Helicopter and Earth’s Rotation

Because of inertia, we cannot travel to another location by hovering inside a helicopter and waiting for the Earth to rotate below us until we are above our destination.

Flat-Earthers claim that we cannot do such a thing as ‘proof’ of a motionless Earth. In reality, when still on the ground, the helicopter is already moving at the same velocity as Earth’s surface.

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Air Density vs Object’s Weight

At a lower altitude, the air is denser, and objects weigh more. On the other hand, at a higher altitude, the air is less dense, and objects weigh less.

Flat-Earthers deny gravity and invented the “explanation” that an object falls only because it is denser than the air surrounding it. But if it were true, objects should weigh more at a higher altitude where the air is less dense. But they weigh less instead, disproving flat-Earthers’ density theory.

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Frame of Reference

A frame of reference consists of an abstract coordinate system and physical reference points that uniquely fix the coordinate system and standardize measurements. Speed or velocity is relative to a specific frame of reference. It is possible that two speeds/velocities are measured relative to a different frame of reference and thus cannot be directly compared.

Flat-Earthers like to compare two different speed measurements like an airplane moving at 900 km/h (560 mph) and Earth’s surface near the equator at 1674 km/h (1040 mph). They would conclude the airplane should not be able to catch up with Earth’s surface and would not land if the Earth is rotating. In reality, both the speeds are measured relative to a different frame of reference, and therefore, cannot be compared directly.

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Georgia Guidestones

The Georgia Guidestones is a granite monument in Georgia, United States. In one of the stones, a hole is drilled through that points to the north celestial pole. And consequently, by looking through the hole, the star Polaris is visible at night.

Polaris is visible through the Georgia Guidestones’ hole every night, and flat-Earthers use the fact as “evidence” that Earth is stationary. In reality, due to Earth’s axial precession, in a few hundred years, Polaris will have moved far enough away from the north celestial pole and will no longer be visible through the hole.

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Gravitational Acceleration in Archimedes’ Formula

Archimedes’ principle states that the upward buoyant force exerted on a body immersed in a fluid is equal to the weight of the fluid that the body displaces. Today we usually use B =  -ρgV to calculate the buoyant force, where ρ is the fluid’s density, g is the gravitational acceleration, and V is the volume of the displaced fluid.

Archimedes discovered buoyancy earlier than Newton discovered gravity, and flat-Earthers dispute the presence of g in the buoyancy formula. In reality, buoyancy depends on the weight of the fluid, and the distinction between weight and mass only occurred after Newton. Archimedes’ principle still applies, only that we now have a better understanding of what weight is.

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How Rocket Engines Work in A Vacuum

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Rocket engines produce thrust by releasing mass rearward at a very high speed according to Newton’s third law, not unlike how discharging a fire extinguisher pushes us backward.

Flat-Earthers claim that rocket engines cannot possibly work in space because space if vacuum and there is no air to push against. In reality, it is possible to produce thrust in a vacuum by releasing mass —that we call “propellants”— rearward at a very high speed.

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Earth Axial Tilt

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Earth’s axis of rotation is tilted. The tilt is relative to Earth’s orbital plane. Therefore, it only affects the apparent positions of objects in the solar system, but not that of the distant stars. Both of Earth’s celestial poles still point to the same location in the sky.

Flat-Earthers fail to understand why the stars are unaffected by Earth’s tilt, and they use it to discredit science. In reality, Earth’s axis of rotation is practically constant in the short term, only not perpendicular to Earth’s orbital plane. As a result, it only affects the apparent positions of the Sun, planets, moon, and other objects in the solar system.

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Isaac Newton and the Falling Apple

The fall of an apple inspired Isaac Newton to understand that the same force that brought the apple falling toward the ground also keeps the Moon in motion around Earth. However, his work involved much more than just observing the falling apple.

Flat-Earthers downplay Newton’s contribution as if it was only about the falling Apple and use the episode as a means of ridicule. In reality, Newton’s works were much more than that.

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Geometry of a Full Moon

Some people are confused that we can see a full moon all night. They expect if the full moon is the result of the opposition of the moon from the sun, then a full moon should be visible only at midnight.

Flat-Earthers with such a spatial cognition problem go a step further and use it to “disprove” spherical Earth. In reality, we can easily explain the phenomenon in the spherical Earth model.

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What We Feel as “Weight” is the Force of Gravity

The weight of an object is the force exerted on the object by gravity. The gravitational force exerted by the Earth on an object is what we feel as the ‘weight’ of the object.

Many flat-Earthers fail to understand that the gravitational force is just another name for ‘weight’. Much misinformation in flat Earth communities arises from this misunderstanding.

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Force Vectors

Many misinformation within flat-Earth communities is present only because of their lack of understanding on how forces work on an object.

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Temperature and Earth’s Axial Tilt

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Earth is tilted relative to its orbital plane. The Northern Hemisphere experiences more sunlight in the months around June. The same is true of the Southern Hemisphere around December. This causes an annual temperature cycle and the seasons.

Flat-Earthers claim the Equator is the hottest place on Earth and use it to disprove Earth’s tilt. In reality, the Equator is not necessarily the hottest place on Earth. Earth’s temperature caused by the axial tilt has an annual cycle and cannot be shown in a single image. Additionally, the Earth is rotating, and therefore the Sun affects the same latitude similarly.

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