Red Bull Stratos was a high-altitude diving project involving Felix Baumgartner. In 2012, Felix Baumgartner flew 39 km (24 mi) into the stratosphere in a helium balloon before free falling in a pressure suit and then parachuting to Earth. Flat-Earthers invented various excuses to dismiss the resulting footage from the project.
In images taken using a fisheye lens, a straight line will remain straight if it crosses the center of the image. We can use this attribute to determine if a line is straight in reality.
In any fisheye videos taken from a high altitude, there should be plenty of moments where the horizon crosses the center of the image, and we can use those to determine that the horizon line is curved in the real world.
The United Arab Emirates astronaut, Hazza Al Mansouri, took pictures of Earth’s features like the Nile and the Persian Gulf during his visit to the ISS. Flat-Earthers claim the pictures are fake because the various objects appear very large compared to the size of the Earth in the picture. The reason is that they do not understand that the ISS is only about 400 km above Earth’s surface, and only a very small amount of the Earth’s surface is visible from the ISS
Defishing is a process for removing barrel distortions in fisheye images. It takes fisheye images, and convert them to normal, rectilinear images that preserve straight lines. Different fisheye lenses can have a different amount of distortions, and thus, require a different defishing strength.
Some flat-Earthers would deliberately use stronger defishing parameters than necessary for the lens being used. Their intention is not to remove the barrel distortion in the resulting images, but also to introduce pincushion distortions to the images. Pincushion distortion is the reverse of barrel distortion. It would curve a straight line to the other direction from what would be produced by the barrel distortion in fisheye lenses. At a specific position in the scene, it would make the curved horizon to appear flat.
The amount of horizon curvature that appears in a photograph of the horizon depends on several factors:
- The altitude of the observer.
- The field of view of the camera.
- Lens distortions of the camera.
Some flat-Earthers assume that we should see the same amount of Earth’s curvature everywhere. And when they see the different amount of curvature in the different picture of Earth’s curvature, they wrongly took it as “proof” of some sort of misconduct.
A large amount of flat Earth memes present an image taken from a high-altitude balloon, showing the appearance of a flat horizon. Such images evidently cannot be regarded as “proof” of a flat Earth. The horizon appears flat only because of the barrel distortion from the fisheye lens.
The following is how any unscrupulous flat-Earther try to deceive us using footages from high-altitude balloons.
In 2017, the group who name themselves ‘ASAN’ staged a protest to Donald Trump by sending a high-altitude balloon carrying a camera and a crude message, which was quoted from a statement by Edgar Mitchell, an astronaut from the Apollo 14 mission.
Some unscrupulous flat-Earthers hijacked the protest and turned it as if ASAN did it to prove Earth’s curvature and to insult them. These flat-Earthers pointed out that ASAN somehow “forgot” to conceal the fact that a fisheye lens was used. In reality, it is never the intention of ASAN to prove Earth’s curvature, nor to throw insults to flat-Earthers.
The amount of curvature that appears in a photograph of a sphere depends on 1. The radius of the sphere, 2. Camera distance from the sphere, 3. Field of view of the camera, and 4. The distortion characteristic of the camera being used.
The ‘curvature fitting game’ has been flat-Earthers’ favorite pastime. They would try to fit a photograph of Earth’s curvature with another. If they find the result is not proportionally correct, they will make fun of it. They are wrong. Two different photos of a sphere can be taken differently and would show a different curve, even if the object being photographed is the same object.
Action cameras are being used in high-altitude balloons, rocket launches, and the ISS because they have some advantages compared to other cameras. And most action cameras are equipped with a fisheye lens.
Flat-Earthers allege that there is an evil intention behind every use of fisheye lenses, especially in space and high-altitude usages. They are wrong. The use of fisheye lenses is not unreasonable. And if a rectilinear result is desired, it is trivial to convert any fisheye footage to a rectilinear one.
A fisheye lens distorts images. It results in images having barrel distortions. In a fisheye lens, a straight line can appear curved. But some flat-Earthers don’t realize that the opposite is also true, a fisheye lens can easily make a curved line look straight.
High-altitude balloon footage is often abused by flat-Earthers to show us that the Earth is flat when seen from a high altitude.
We analyzed more than two dozens of footage taken from high-altitude balloons on YouTube, and we can easily conclude the curvature is there and usually easy to spot, including in the cases where flat-Earthers use the video as ‘proof’ of a flat Earth.
Little Piggy is the nickname of a helium balloon launched by IndianaCaver. It reached the altitude of almost 37 km before it finally ruptured and fell to the Earth. Before that, it took several hours of video, and IndianaCaver made these video available on YouTube.
Then, some flat-Earthers cherry-picked bits of the video where the horizon looked flat and presented it as ‘proof’ of flat-Earth. These are widely circulated in various memes and forms, even years after the originals were published.
But, can we use these videos as ‘proof’ of flat-Earth?
A good majority of pictures of Earth taken from space are being dismissed by flat-earthers merely because they are made using fish-eye lenses. They believe any curvature of Earth shown in those pictures is the result of the fisheye effect, and thus, cannot be used as evidence of Earth’s curvature. They even take a step further and assume a fish-eye lens is deliberately used to take every picture of the Earth taken from a high altitude so that they would have a curvature in it.
These claims are, of course, ungrounded. In some cases, we can conclude the curvature is there, even when a fish-eye lens is being used. We can use this useful property of any photographic lens:
A straight line will appear straight as long as it crosses the center point of the image.