Refraction and Water

Refraction is the change in the direction of light due to the change in the medium’s refractive index traveled by the light. It is convenient to use water in a demonstration of refraction. But water alone is not the cause of refraction.

Flat-Earthers falsely claim that just because our atmosphere has water vapor in it, it will produce the same effect as any demonstration of refraction involving water. In reality, it requires far more reasoning than just that water is involved.

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Selenelion: The Phenomenon Where Both the Sun and Moon Are Visible During a Total Lunar Eclipse

A selenelion occurs during a lunar eclipse when the sun and moon are observed above the horizon. Atmospheric refraction bends light rays and lifts the image of the sun, and the moon typically up to 0.6°, so both can appear above the horizon.

Flat-Earthers assert that a selenelion should not be possible if Earth is a sphere due to the fact during a lunar eclipse, the sun and moon are 180° apart. In reality, a selenelion is possible because Earth’s atmosphere refracts light.

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Visibility Range vs Angular Resolution

Visibility range is a measure of the distance at which an object can be clearly discerned. Angular resolution is the ability of an optical system to resolve detail in the object.

Unlike the claim from flat-Earthers, there is no such thing as the “maximum range” of a camera. A germ on our hand is well within the visibility range, yet a regular camera lacks sufficient angular resolution to see it. On the other hand, an airplane is much farther away, but it has a larger angular size and can be seen by the camera.

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Inferior Mirage

An inferior mirage is a phenomenon in which atmospheric refraction bends light rays to produce a mirrored image below a real object. It occurs when a hot surface heats the layer of air above it, placing it below a colder & denser layer of air.

Flat-Earthers like to use inferior mirages to “explain” how a distant object can appear partly obstructed if the Earth is flat. In reality, an inferior mirage cannot produce an appearance similar to an object partially obscured by Earth’s curvature.

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Refraction: Only a Baseless Technobabble in Flat Earth Community

Flat-Earthers use the phenomenon of refraction as a catch-all “explanation” every time they observe something not appearing in the expected position if the Earth is flat. They use the term “refraction” as mere technobabble without any underlying explanation.

The following are how we can distinguish real-world, scientific refraction from the technobabble used by flat-Earthers:

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Earth’s Shadow and the Belt of Venus

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Earth’s shadow is the shadow that Earth casts into its atmosphere, toward the opposite point from the sun. Above Earth’s shadow is the Belt of Venus, a pink band from the scattering of sunlight through the atmosphere.

Earth’s shadow lies at the antisolar point —the point opposite the sun. It rises when the sun sets and sets when the sun rises. The phenomenon shows us that the sun really goes below the horizon and disproves the flat Earth model.

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Distance to the Horizon & the Black Swan Observation

The distance to the horizon depends on the height of the observer and atmospheric refraction. The variability in atmospheric refraction can make the horizon appear in front of a distant object sometimes, and behind it in other times.

Some flat-Earthers raised a case —dubbed the “black swan” case— in which the horizon appears to be behind a distant object which is farther than the distance to the horizon according to calculation, and they use the fact to “disprove” Earth’s curvature. In reality, they did not account for atmospheric refraction, and that the amount of refraction varies.

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The Appearance of Sunset and Atmospheric Refraction

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The appearance of sunset depends on atmospheric conditions. Thermal inversion can irregularly refract light coming from the sun and distort the image of the Sun seen from an observer.

Some flat-Earthers observed a specific appearance of sunset and presented the fact as if it “proves” a receding sun in the flat-Earth model. They are wrong. The appearances of the sunsets are the results of atmospheric refraction.

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Lighthouses and the Loom of the Light

Lighthouses are equipped with powerful lights. In a dark night, even if Earth’s curvature obscures the entire structure of the lighthouse, the phenomenon of the loom of the light allows their lights to be visible beyond the horizon; not unlike how the beam of a green laser is visible to our eyes.

Flat-Earthers like to point out the cases where the light from a lighthouse is visible even if the lighthouse should be completely obscured by Earth’s curvature. They would claim it as “proof” that the Earth is flat. They are wrong. The loom of the light lets us see the light even when the lighthouse itself is below the horizon.

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Sun Dog

A sun dog is an atmospheric optical phenomenon that consists of a bright spot separated by 22° from the Sun to one or both sides of the Sun. It is caused by the refraction of sunlight by ice crystals in the atmosphere.

Flat-Earthers claim that a sun dog is caused by the reflection of sunlight by the mythical dome enclosing the flat Earth, that there are multiple suns, or other equally implausible reasons. They are wrong. A sun dog is simply an optical phenomenon that occurs in cold locations where ice crystals can accumulate in the atmosphere.

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Solar Filter

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A solar filter is utilized to reduce the intensity of sunlight and enable a camera to capture the image of the sun with the correct exposure, even under bright daylight. Without a solar filter, sunlight can be too bright to be correctly exposed by a camera.

Some flat-Earthers made their observation of the sun using a camera without a solar filter. As a result, in some of their images, the sun appears much larger due to the fact the camera cannot distinguish the sun and the sun glare around it.

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Specular Reflection and Diffuse Reflection

An object is visible if it is either reflecting light or a light source itself. Furthermore, a reflecting object can have specular reflection (glossy finish, mirror-like), diffuse reflection (matte), or the combination of both.

Some flat-Earthers like to compare the appearance of the Moon to a glossy, metallic ball. Then, the difference in how the two objects look is taken as “proof” that the Moon is not reflecting light. They are wrong. A shiny metallic ball reflects almost all incoming light in mirror-like fashion, or that it has predominantly specular reflection. On the other hand, the Moon reflects incoming light to every direction, or that it has only the diffuse reflection.

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Rayleigh Scattering

Earth’s atmosphere glows in blue because of Rayleigh scattering. It scatters sunlight to every direction. Bluish colors are scattered more than reddish colors. This results in the bright blue color of the sky in the daytime.

There are many misconceptions in the flat Earth community that arise from the lack of understanding of Rayleigh scattering.

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Variability of Atmospheric Refraction

In most situations, atmospheric refraction bends light downwards and causes objects to appear higher than they actually are. The strength of atmospheric refraction is not constant. It depends on weather condition and varies on the different seasons, different days, and even different times of the day.

Because of the variability of atmospheric refraction, a distant object that is usually obstructed by Earth’s curvature can sometimes be visible. Some flat-Earthers would cherry-pick moments when the object is visible. They would show such specific moments to everyone and use them to “disprove” Earth’s curvature; happily ignoring the cases where Earth’s curvature partly or entirely obstructs the object.

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The Dark Sky on the Lunar Daytime

On Earth, daylight sky is glowing in bright blue due to Rayleigh scattering. Sunlight is scattered in every direction by the oxygen and nitrogen molecules in Earth’s atmosphere.

Such the phenomenon does not happen on the Moon, causing the dark sky of the Moon. Flat-Earthers claim that the dark sky of the Moon captured by photos and videos taken from the Moon are “proof” there is misconduct. They are wrong. Just because Earth’s sky is bright blue, it does not mean it will be like that on the Moon and other planets.

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Infrared Vision

When we are unable to see a distant object, then it is due to one of these reasons:

  • Our eyes lack the sufficient angular resolution to recognize the object.
  • Atmospheric condition limits visibility.
  • The object is far enough and obscured by Earth’s curvature.

Some flat-Earthers like to show that a previously unseen distant object can be brought into view using infrared vision. They would take that as ‘evidence’ of the non-existence of Earth’s curvature. They are wrong. Infrared vision can reveal hidden objects caused by visibility limitations, but not ones obscured by Earth’s curvature.

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Sunglint

Sunglint is a phenomenon that occurs when sunlight reflects off the surface of a water body —like the ocean— at the same angle as an observer is viewing the surface. In the affected area, relatively smooth ocean water becomes a silvery mirror.

In the flat-Earth model, the Sun is assumed to be a ‘local light source.’ They like to use a spotlight or a flashlight as an analogy. They present the sunglint phenomenon as ‘evidence’ of the fact that sunlight is local. They are wrong.

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The Moon in Daytime and the ‘Transparent Moon’ Misconception

Earth’s atmosphere scatters sunlight in every direction. Bluish colors are scattered stronger than reddish tones. As a result, the sky is glowing in bright blue during the day. The phenomenon is called the Rayleigh scattering.

Sometimes the Moon is visible during the day. The bright part of the Moon is bright because it is lit by the sunlight. On the other hand, its dark part does not receive sunlight, and thus barely emit any light. Because of these reasons, the dark part of the Moon is dominated by the blue color of the sky.

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Fraunhofer Lines

Sunlight can be broken into its constituent colors using a prism. The colors are the optical spectrum of the Sun. They are the same colors on rainbows. On careful observation, the spectrum is not perfectly continuous, but it has dark lines scattered over the entire spectrum. It turned out that from the lines, we can tell the composition of the Sun without physically getting there.

Some flat-Earthers think that it is impossible for us to determine the composition of the Sun, as it is impossible for anyone to visit the Sun without getting roasted in the process. They are wrong. The composition of the Sun can be determined from the spectral lines, or more specifically for the Sun: the Fraunhofer lines.

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Shadow on Clouds

Before sunrise or after sunset, the Sun is below the horizon and not directly visible. But the sky and clouds above are illuminated because they are high above, and sunlight can reach them.

If there’s a mountain between the Sun and the clouds, it can cast a shadow on the clouds. The flat-Earth model assumes the Sun is always high above, and thus, this phenomenon cannot possibly occur in a flat-Earth.

The fact that a mountain can cast its shadow on clouds far above it is evidence that the Earth is spherical.

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