Blue Marble and the Visible Area of Earth’s Surface

The Blue Marble is an image of Earth taken by the crew of the Apollo 17 spacecraft on its way to the Moon. It was taken from a distance of 29000 km from Earth’s surface.

Flat-Earthers dismiss it by incorrectly asserting that the image covers a too-small area of Earth’s surface, due to their failure to account for the maps’ distortion.

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Richard Garriott’s “Pocket of Gravity” Magic Trick

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Richard Garriott is a video-game developer and entrepreneur who is also an avid magician. In October 2008, he flew to the ISS onboard a Soyuz rocket as a private astronaut. During his time on the ISS, he performed several magic tricks.

One of his magic tricks involves a hammer that floats and a card that seems to fall as if it is pulled down by gravity. Flat-Earthers were unaware it was a mere magic trick and wrongly assume it demonstrates things are falling in the ISS, despite other objects in the scene that float.

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Missions to the Moon, Post-Apollo

After the Apollo moon landings, we continue launching missions to the moon, but with uncrewed spacecraft. The Apollo program was not entirely a scientific mission. It also served as a political mission due to the Cold War. We can research a lot of things about the moon without risking human lives by sending them to the moon.

Flat-Earthers claim that there have not been any missions to the moon after the Apollo missions, and they conclude that the Apollo missions were fabricated. In reality, we continue sending spacecraft to the moon to this day.

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Angular Resolution

Angular resolution is the minimum separation between distinguishable features in an image. Objects smaller than the angular resolution are indiscernible in the picture. The theoretical maximum angular resolution is determined by the diameter of the aperture of the optical instrument.

Flat-Earthers like to demand images of the lunar landers taken with a telescope as proof that the Apollo Moon landings did occur. In reality, no optical telescope on Earth is large enough to resolve the landers.

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2001 Mars Odyssey Launch Video

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Flat-Earthers often challenge us to provide a video of a rocket launch that was taken from the rocket itself, without interruption from launch to reaching space, as if it would convince them to accept that it is real and the Earth is a sphere.

The launch video of the 2001 Mars Odyssey mission easily fulfills their demand. But whether they can manage to accept the reality that Earth is a sphere is entirely another matter.

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Flight Dynamics: the Assumption of Flat & Non-Rotating Earth for Simplification

In making mathematical models, physicists often remove real-world details that have little influence over the final results for simplifications. In flight-dynamics, it is often perfectly adequate to assume Earth is flat & non-rotating, even if the final aircraft will be flying over spherical & rotating Earth.

Flat-Earthers claimed to have exposed ‘a secret document’ from NASA, saying that Earth is flat & non-rotating. In reality, the document is simply a derivation of a flight dynamics problem, assuming flat and non-rotating Earth, which is a common assumption made to simplify flight models. It does not imply the Earth is flat and non-rotating.

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Apollo Astronauts and the Demand to Swear on the Bible

In the early 2000s, an unscrupulous Moon landing denialist lured Apollo astronauts into an audience with him under false pretenses. Then he insulted them as liars and pressed them to swear on the Bible that they went to the Moon.

Flat-Earthers use this incident as “evidence” that we never went to the Moon. In reality, the offender did not meet the astronauts with the best of intentions. This incident tells us more about the offender than it does about the astronauts.

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“Mouse” on a SpaceX Falcon9 Rocket Launch

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In the video of the CRS-19 mission of the SpaceX Falcon9 rocket, flat-Earthers noticed something is moving near the exhaust of the second stage rocket. Creatively, they interpreted it as a “mouse, ” and then use it to discredit spaceflight and the people involved in it.

In reality, it was merely crystallized waste from the rocket engine. To know this, we only need to see the part of the video after the one cherry-picked by flat-Earthers. The “mouse” slowly disappeared by evaporation.

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Rocket Staging

Rockets consist of several stages. Two or more smaller rockets are combined into a single rocket. They are ignited in order; when an earlier stage runs out of propellants, it is jettisoned to reduce the load for the rest of the rocket.

Flat-Earthers noticed videos of rockets being recovered from the ocean and use them as “evidence” rockets never went to space. In reality, these are the jettisoned earlier stages of the rockets. The latter stages do reach space.

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Apollo 11 Post-Flight Press Conference

Flat-Earthers claim that the Apollo 11 astronauts were gloomy and uneasy at their press conference. They allege this was due to their guilt of faking the Moon landing. In reality, the press conference was full of jokes and laughter.

Unscrupulous conspiracy theorists cherry-picked a single photo from the press conference video in which the astronauts were serious. They abuse the picture to ignite our emotions and lead us to believe the hoax they created that the Moon landings did not occur.

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Mentioning NASA in Arguments About the Shape of the Earth

Humans knew Earth is a sphere since at least the 3rd century B.C., far before the first spaceflight and before NASA was founded. Flat Earthers have no choice but to slander NASA to defend the flat-Earth belief, but there is no need to rely on NASA to know that Earth is a sphere.

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Tim Peake’s Scientific Demonstration on the ISS and the Green Screen Conspiracy Theory

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In 2006, astronaut Tim Peake from the UK was tasked to perform some physics demonstration on the ISS for the National Space Academy. Tim performed the demonstrations in front of a gridded background specifically made for the purpose.

One of Tim’s video appeared during the former US president George H.W. Bush’s visit to NASA’s Mission Control Center. Flat-Earthers discovered the footage and quickly claim that it used a green screen background for CGI purposes. Such allegation was only from their ignorance and the eagerness to accuse others of lying. Tim’s videos are published in the National Science Academy’s web site as is, proving the background in the videos was merely an ordinary background, not a green screen for CGI.

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The Saros Cycle and Saros Series

A page on NASA’s website is at the center of the attention of flat-Earth followers. It is a page created by Fred ‘Mr. Eclipse’ Espenak, explaining the Saros cycle. The first paragraph from the page:

The periodicity and recurrence of eclipses is governed by the Saros cycle, a period of approximately 6,585.3 days (18 years 11 days 8 hours). It was known to the Chaldeans as a period when lunar eclipses seem to repeat themselves, but the cycle is applicable to solar eclipses as well.

After they discovered that the said ‘Chaldeans’ was a civilization from 25 centuries ago, they got excited and jumped to the conclusion that NASA used ancient technology to predict eclipses. But, like other similar cases, this tells us more about the flat-Earthers themselves than about NASA.

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“Who Recorded This?”

Showing a photo or video from the Apollo Moon landings, then rhetorically asking “Who took or recorded this image?” is a common behavior exhibited by many flat-Earthers, as if there is no plausible answer, and only a conspiracy theory can possibly answer it.

In reality, there are simple answers to those questions. And it is very easy for anyone to find the answers.

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Quality of a Photograph

The quality of a photograph depends on the quality of the equipment. Higher quality equipment tends to give us better results than lower quality ones.

Flat Earthers like to use their Nikon P900/P1000 to take a picture of planets. When they discover their results have far worse quality than the images from NASA, they would conclude NASA must have faked them. In reality, it was due to their equipment are not in the same league as NASA’s, not to mention the skills to operate the equipment.

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Buzz Aldrin’s Interview & the Quote-Mining by Flat Earthers

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In September 2015, Buzz Aldrin gave an interview at the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. Flat-Earthers misrepresented and quoted it out of context as if Buzz was admitting that the Apollo Moon landings never happened.

The original interview was 17 minutes long, and there were other occasions Buzz clearly said the Moon landings happened, without any possibility of misinterpretation.

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James Van Allen and the Van Allen Radiation Belts

In 1958, James Van Allen discovered the existence of the Van Allen radiation belts. Conspiracy theorists, including flat-Earthers, use it to “prove” the Apollo Moon landings were faked and never happened. To dispel the hoax, James Van Allen himself wrote letters clarifying the false allegation.

“The recent Fox TV show, which I saw, is an ingenious & entertaining assemblage of nonsense. The claim that radiation exposure during the Apollo missions would have been fatal to the astronauts is only one example of such nonsense.”

Both the discovery of the Van Allen radiation belts and the statement that the radiation belts do not prevent space travel came from James Van Allen. Conspiracy theorists cannot merely quote one when it appears to support their belief and conveniently reject the other if it is against them. Continue reading “James Van Allen and the Van Allen Radiation Belts”

“Star Trek Style” Impenetrable Barrier

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In 2014, scientists discovered an impenetrable barrier in the Van Allen radiation belts. It prevents dangerous ultrarelativistic electrons from getting too close to the Earth.

Some news outlets dubbed it “Star Trek style invisible shield.” Flat-Earthers were too excited reading the headlines and unable to understand the rest of the news. They used it to “prove” the mythical dome above Earth and that spaceflight is impossible. They are wrong. The barrier prevents dangerous ultrarelativistic electrons from reaching Earth. It does not stop us from going to space.

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Remedy Drive’s “Commodity” Album Cover Image Confusion

In 2014, the Christian rock band Remedy Drive released the album “Commodity”. Its cover image is a small hole from NASA’s Solar Max Satellite that was caused by space debris. NASA first published the original photos in 2006.

In 2018, astronaut Chris Hadfield showed the picture to illustrate how space debris can do to a spacecraft. Flat-Earthers were happy to accuse Hadfield of stealing the cover image from the “Commodity” album. They were simply looking for any reason do discredit space flight and did not realize NASA published the image first before anyone else, including Remedy Drive.

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The ‘Destroyed Technology’ to go to the Moon

In an interview, Donald Pettit —a NASA astronaut— mentioned that he’d go the moon, but they no longer have the technology to do that. All the technology from the Apollo mission has been destroyed, and it is a painful process to build it back again.

Flat-Earthers interpreted the statement rather too freely and took that as “proof” we never had the technology in the first place. In reality, the word “technology” is polyseme. It has two different related meanings. Flat-Earthers misinterpreted Don’s statement as one meaning, while Don’s intention was another.

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