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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Zooming In On Distant Boats Does Not Disprove Earth’s Curvature

If a distant boat is not visible, then it is because of at least one of these reasons:

  • Our eyes have limited angular resolution and are unable to resolve the ship at that distance.
  • The atmospheric condition is limiting our visibility.
  • The curvature of the Earth obscures the ship.

Flat-Earthers like to demonstrate that a previously invisible ship at a distance can be made visible by zooming in. They would use it to disprove Earth’s curvature. They are wrong. There are reasons other than Earth’s curvature that can obscure a distant boat.

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Railroads and Earth’s Curvature

Railways are built to follow Earth’s terrain, minimizing the grade/slope as much as possible. Consequently, they all follow Earth’s curvature. And many of them were built by explicitly accounting for the curve of the Earth.

Flat-Earthers claim that railroads are straight, and never built by accounting for Earth’s curvature. They are wrong. The leveling works were done in such a way to minimize the effect of Earth’s curvature. There are also multiple books describing railroad constructions where the curvature of the Earth is specifically accounted for.

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Observation of Earth’s Curvature from Near the Surface

Observing Earth’s curvature is more difficult when we are too close to Earth’s surface. The highest place within reach of the general public is a commercial passenger flight. Even then, it is still difficult to casually discern the curvature of the Earth from an airplane. With some effort, it is possible to observe the curve of the Earth from a location closer to the surface, as long as we are willing to do some planning and careful observation.

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Curvature Dilemma

A ship disappearing from the bottom first is an effect of Earth’s curvature. It is not a direct observation of the curvature itself. We can only directly see the curvature from a significant altitude, not from near the surface.

Flat-Earthers present this reality as if it is a dilemma: 1. Earth is too big for us to see the curvature, but 2. We can see ships go over the curvature. It is a false dilemma. Ships disappearing from the bottom first is an effect of Earth’s curvature. Witnessing such an effect of Earth’s curvature is different from witnessing the curvature itself.

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Eight Inches Per Mile Squared

The “eight inches per mile squared” is a rule of thumb to determine the drop height due to the curvature of the Earth. It does not account for the observer’s height and atmospheric refraction. And therefore, the rule is unsuitable to determine the amount of obstruction of a distant object due to Earth’s curvature.

Many Flat-Earthers often use the “8 inches” rule to reach the conclusion similar to “X is visible, but at the distance of Y miles, X should be Z feet below the horizon, so the Earth is flat.” They are wrong. The “8 inches” rule is the wrong tool for the purpose as it does not account for the height of the observer and atmospheric refraction.

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Humber Bridge and Earth’s Curvature

The Humber Bridge, near Kingston upon Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire, England, is a 2.22-kilometer (1.38 mi) single-span road suspension bridge, which opened to traffic on 24 June 1981. When it opened, the bridge was the longest of its type in the world.

The towers, although both vertical, are 36 mm (1.4 inches) farther apart at the top than the bottom due to the curvature of the earth.

References

Flat-Earth “Perspective” is not Real-World Perspective

To an observer, the law of perspective will cause objects moving away in a straight line to:

  1. appear to approach the vanishing point but never quite reach it,
  2. never appear to go across the vanishing point,
  3. appear to shrink in size,
  4. never appear to be cut in half unless when it is obstructed by another object.

If the Earth were flat, sunsets, sunrises, and other general phenomena where objects are not visible due to Earth’s curvature should not occur. To “fix the problem,” flat-Earthers invented the explanation that the apparent obstruction of a distant object can occur on a flat Earth due to “perspective.” Their “perspective” is simply a baseless ad-hoc explanation that does not resemble how the real-world perspective works.

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The Amount of Curvature that Appears in Photographs of the Horizon

The amount of horizon curvature that appears in a photograph of the horizon depends on several factors:

  1. The altitude of the observer.
  2. The field of view of the camera.
  3. 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.

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“Behind the Curve”: the Earth’s Curvature Experiment

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“Behind the Curve” is a documentary showing behind the scenes on what is happening in the flat-Earth community in the United States just before a flat-Earth conference. In a section, the film shows us how a flat-Earther tried to disprove curvature using a series of visual experiments. The result clearly indicates the surface curves, but he was unwilling to accept the fact.

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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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Auguste Piccard, Another Scientist Falsely Claimed by Flat-Earthers

Auguste Piccard was a Swiss-Belgian physicist, inventor, and explorer, known for his record-breaking balloon flights to the stratosphere, as well as the invention for bathyscaphe to allow for deep ocean exploration.

Unfortunately for him, flat-Earthers are claiming him as their own these days. It started from a Popular Science article from 1931, saying:

Through portholes, the observers saw the earth through copper-colored then bluish, haze. It seemed a flat disk with upturned edge.

But, no. In reality, Auguste Piccard was not even close to being a flat-Earther.

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Football Field and ‘Flat-Earth Convergence Experiments’

A properly designed football field does not lie perfectly flat. Its middle portion is slightly raised to promote runoff of excess water. Without it, the field can become muddy & uncomfortable.

Some flat-Earthers conducted the perspective convergence ‘experiment’. They put a camera on the surface of a football field, and record a person walking away across the field. The person started to disappear from his feet first. Because they felt the football field is flat, they took the wrong conclusion that the person disappeared due to ‘perspective’. They were wrong. The field is, in fact, not perfectly flat. If it is perfectly flat, the person would appear fully at the end of the field.

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Earth’s Curvature Calculation

The amount of obstruction of a distant object that is caused by Earth’s curvature depends on:

  1. The distance of the object.
  2. The height of the observer.
  3. The height of the object.
  4. The magnitude of atmospheric refraction.

Flat-Earthers like to use the visibility of a distant object to prove Earth’s curvature does not exist. Very often, they failed to account for observer’s height and atmospheric refraction, or make other mistakes, like unit conversions errors, distance calculation errors, etc. Once all are considered for, and mistakes are fixed, everything will be consistent with spherical Earth.

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Salar de Uyuni and Other Salt Flats

Salt flats are flat expanses of ground covered with salt and other minerals. Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia is the world’s largest salt flat. Salt flats are visibly very flat, but like every other geology features, they all follow the curvature of the Earth.

Flat-Earthers take the flatness of Salar de Uyuni and other salt flats as ‘evidence’ of a flat Earth. They are wrong. While most salt flats appear flat, they still gradually curve and follow the curvature of the Earth.

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The Curvature Fitting Game

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.

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Airborne Early Warning & Control (AEW&C): Mitigating Limited Radar Range Due to Earth’s Curvature

An AEW&C (airborne early warning and control) system is a radar system attached to an aircraft. It can detect objects at a very long range compared to any surface mounted radar system.

The reason is that Earth’s curvature limits the range of a surface-based radar. An airborne radar system mitigates this problem.

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Crow’s Nest on Ships

A crow’s nest is a structure in the upper part of the ship, especially old-fashioned ones. It is used as a lookout point and positioned high above to increase visibility over the curvature of the Earth.

On the deck of a ship 4 m (13 ft) above the surface of the ocean, an observer can spot a 20 m (66 ft) high ship from at most ±25 km (16 mi). On the other hand, from a 35 m (115 ft) high crow’s nest, an observer will be able to spot the same ship from ±40 km (25 mi) away.

On modern ships, the role of a lookout is replaced by radars. And for the same reason, a radar is positioned in the upper part of a ship.

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