The earth is flat – in Cleveland

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I stopped following basketball after Michael Jordan stopped playing for the Bulls – believe it or not, the sport appears to have become the place to believe and practice outlandish theories that might be described (in comparison to the Bulls) as bull****.

There’s a basketball star, that plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers. His name is Kyrie Irving. He believes that the earth is flat. He wishes to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers – but not go away too far, since he might fall off the side of the earth. However, he has inspired a large number of middle-schoolers (none of whom I have had the pleasure of meeting, but apparently they exist) that the earth is flat and that the “round-earthers” are government-conspiracy-inspired, pointy-headed, Russian spies – read this article if you want background. In fact, there is a club called the Flat Earth Society, that has members around the globe, that all believe the earth is flat as a pancake.

It would be really interesting, I thought, if, like my favorite detective – Sherlock Holmes – I decided to write the “Intelligent Person’s Guide to Why the Earth is Round”. I would ask you, dear Skeptical Reader, to use no more than tools readily available, some believable friends who possess phones with cameras and the ability to send and receive pictures by mail or text, as well as not being in the pay of the FSB  (or the North Koreans, who decidedly are trying very hard to check the flat earth theory by sending out ICBMs at increasing distances).

I live  in south New Jersey. At my location, the sun rose today at 5:57 am (you could figure this out by typing it out on Google search or just wake up in time to look for the sun). I have two friends, that live in Denver (Colorado) and Cheyenne (Wyoming). Their sunrises occur at 6:00 am and 5:53 am (their time) – averages to 5:56:30 am roughly. I realize that Denver is a mile high, which is also roughly Cheyenne’s height, but hey, you don’t pick your friends. I also live at an elevation of roughly 98′, which isn’t much and I ignore it. They sent me pictures of when the sun rose and I was able to prove they weren’t lying to me or part of a government conspiracy.

The distance from my town to these places is 1766 miles (to Denver) and 1613 miles (to Cheyenne). I used Google to calculate these, but you could schlep yourself there too. Based on just these facts, I should conclude that the earth curves between New Jersey and those places. To my mind, this should clinch the question of whether the earth is round. Since the  roughly 1700 mile separation equals 2 hours of time difference (in sunrises), a 24-hour time difference corresponds to 20,400 miles. This is roughly equal to 24,000  miles times the cosine of 40 degrees, which is the latitude of both New York City, Denver and Cheyenne (which is the circumference for radius r, rather than Earth’s radius R). This means 2 \pi R (which is the earth’s equatorial circumference) is roughly 26,000 miles, which is close to the correct figure to within 4%. The extreme height at Denver and Cheyenne has something to do with it! The sun {\bf should} have risen later in Denver and Cheyenne if they had been at lower elevations, so 1700 miles would {\bf really} have corresponded to a few minutes more than 2 hours, which would have meant a lower estimate for the earth’s equatorial circumference.

Earth Is Round

By the way, I picked Cheyenne because of its auditory resemblance to the town that Eratosthenes picked for his diameter-of-Earth measurement, Syrene in present-day Libya. Yes, the first person to measure the Earth’s diameter was Libyan!

Some objections to these entirely reasonable calculations include – if the earth is actually rotating, why doesn’t it move under you when you go up in a balloon. Sorry, this has been thought of already! When I was young, I was consumed by Yakov Perelman’s “Astronomy for Entertainment” – a book written by the tragically short-lived Soviet popularizer of science who died during the siege of Leningrad (St. Petersburg) in 1942. Perelman wrote about a young, enterprising, French advertising executive/scammer at the turn of the 19th century that dreamed up a new scheme to separate people from their money. He advertised balloon flights that would take you to different parts of the world without moving – just go up in a balloon and stay aloft till your favorite country comes up beneath you. It doesn’t happen because all the stuff around you is moving with you. Why? Its the same reason why the rain drops don’t fly off your side-windows even when you are driving on the road at high speed in the rain – forgetting for a second about the gravitational force that pulls things towards the earth’s center. There is a boundary layer of material that rotates or moves as fast as a moving object – its a consequence of the mechanics of fluids and we live with it in various places. For instance, it is one reason why icing occurs on airplane wings – if there was a terrible force of wind all the time, ice wouldn’t form.

So, if you are willing to listen to reason, no reason to restrict yourself to Cleveland. The world is invitingly round.

Addendum : a rather insightful friend of mine just told me that Kyrie Irving was actually born in Australia on the other side of the Flat Earth. If so, I doubt that even my robust arguments would convince him to globalize his views.

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