The Size of North America in Pictures of the Earth Taken From Space

How much of Earth we can see at once depends on our distance from the Earth. The closer we are to the surface of the Earth, then the smaller part of the Earth we can see at once. Conversely, the farther we are from the Earth, more of the Earth are visible to us.

The difference in the size of North America in these pictures relative to the size of the Earth is often presented as “evidence” that we have been lied to. In reality, it is simply a perspective effect. The pictures are taken from a different distance from the Earth and with a different camera field of view.

This is how we took the pictures of the globe in the illustration.

  • The picture on the left was taken using a 70-200mm telephoto lens at 200mm. Its field of view is ±11°. The distance to the object is ±2.6 meters.
  • The picture on the right was taken using a 16-35mm wide-angle lens at 16mm. Its field of view is ±98°. The distance to the object is ±27 cm.

We took both using the same Canon 5D Mark III camera.

Anyone can do the same experiment using a camera and a globe or even another spherical object like a basketball or a football. Any camera that can zoom is enough, including most camera phones.

To better illustrate this effect, you can also use the simulation here: The True Face of the Earth, Camera Distance matters.