There’s a group of people who’ve lost trust in scientists, professors, academics, and pretty much anyone who is paid to establish and dispense facts. Some of these people are rejecting a fact established centuries ago that sits at the core of most modern biology, geology and astronomy: We live on a big, round, spinning ball. That group has now grown to include several spinning ball lovers, like former pro basketball player Shaquille O’Neil.
Shaq and fellow spinning ball lover Kyrie Irving are now publicly supporting the flat Earth conspiracy theory, joining an already existing cohort. The Root had a great take about facts and living as a black American that offers some rationale. But the Earth being a spinning ball is central to many people’s jobs, to our satellite-reliant electronics (like your iPhone), to communicating between countries... literally everything, actually. If in 30 years a majority of Americans believe in a flat Earth, everything will be bad.
So before kids start thinking the Earth is flat because their idols think so, let’s review some very obvious ways you can convince yourself and any of your flat Earth friends that we live on a spinning orb.
Days, Nights and Their Lengths
Image: Alvesgaspar/Wikimedia Commons
The entire idea of days, nights and how long they last only works if the Earth is round. If the Earth were flat and one person could see the Sun, then literally everyone on the whole planet could also see it. Think about a light in the centre of a basketball court—imagine that light is the Sun, the court is the flat Earth. But we know that’s not true. Let me switch to another sport—if the Los Angeles Dodgers played at Yankee Stadium on an evening and you were in LA, Shaq, you would see a dark field on TV, even though it was daytime on your couch. You could even call your friends in New York to confirm.
Maybe you’re not convinced, and you think that somehow, a ten thousand degree ball of fire can’t light up our entire puny little rock. Then you’d need to explain the Sun going below the horizon as it dims, too—we’ll get to that in a sec. And what about the lengths of the days?
If you’ve somehow figured out a way to explain the existence of day and night with a flat Earth, how would you explain the day being longer and shorter depending on where on Earth you are? During Northern Hemisphere summer (Southern Hemisphere winter), the days are increasingly longer further north and shorter further south, because the Earth is facing the Sun at a tilt. I cannot think of a way to explain the combination of day and night, and the lengths of the days being different depending on where you are, with anything except for a round ball tilted towards a bright light.
Need another explanation? Just shine a torch at your spinning basketball and look at the amount of time the dots are illuminated, depending on where you point your light.
Hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons are all the same thing: Spinning masses of air sucking moisture from the ocean, dumping it back on us and destroying things in their path. A hurricane is just a giant wind drain—a low pressure centre with winds flushing into it. The wind always blows counter-clockwise inwards in Northern Hemisphere hurricanes—check out this picture of Hurricane Katrina and the United States. And, Shaq, you can even go to some East Coast location and ride out a hurricane yourself. Notice the direction the wind is travelling with a compass, depending on where the Hurricane is.
However, in the Southern Hemisphere, the wind travels the opposite direction. Here’s a picture of Hurricane Catarina, a very rare Southern Hemisphere Atlantic Hurricane:
Notice that Catarina is very clearly spinning in the opposite direction. That’d because of the Coriolis effect—the wind changes direction as the planet spins beneath it. If the Earth wasn’t spinning, the wind should blow straight into the middle of the hurricane from all directions. But the Earth spins faster at the equator than at the poles, because our planet’s midsection has the furthest distance to travel in each rotation. Winds travelling northwards or southwards curve as they travel from slower spinning to faster spinning regions. The wind curves the opposite direction based on whether you are above or below the equator, since the Earth’s rotation gets slower on alternate sides. You can recreate this by spinning a basketball on your finger, and moving a marker from the bottom up or the top down—notice what the line looks like above and below the middle of the ball.
Okay, let’s try to explain that with a flat Earth. If Earth was a giant spinning plate with the North Pole at its centre, all hurricanes should spin in the same direction and should have a much more spiral shape the further south (i.e., away from the centre) you head. You could maybe slow down the spins further from the centre of the spinning plate, but then you should see the continents ripping apart from the different speeds. It just doesn’t make any sense.
The Way Things Look
Shaq, you’ve got money, go take a plane ride. Look out the window. You can see that the Earth is curved. Ask someone to fly in their plane with them. Go west for a bunch of hours. Look at the compass, insist that they only steer to keep on a single-direction course. You will eventually land in the same airport. Ask them to do it again, going North or South. Learn to fly and prove it to yourself.
Image: FASTILY/Wikimedia Commons
Now, pay the same person to fly you to the beach. Look at the boats. They will eventually go below the horizon as they travel away, something that requires the Earth to at least be curved. Ptolemy noticed this around 2,000 years ago. There are some crazy flat Earth explanations that involve “perspective.” You can overcome limitiations in “perspective” by buying a pair of binoculars or a telescope.
There are so many more ways you can prove to yourself the Earth is round. You can see more things the higher up you are. You don’t feel a centripetal force like you would on a carousel. Long suspension bridges’ towers slope slightly away from one another to account for the curvature of the Earth. Every other planet is a spinning sphere. Satellites exist (as proven by the existence of your iPhone), and obey rules that only work if they’re orbiting a round Earth. We’ve taken many, many pictures of Earth. Buy a weather balloon and strap a camera to it.
Anyway, it doesn’t matter. Go vaccinate your kids.