The Eclipse Issue
For a moment, forget the fact that Earth is a sphere. Forget that the orbit of Earth, along with the orbit of the Sun and Moon, are what will cause the upcoming solar eclipse. Instead, think about the eclipse the way flat-Earthers do:
Picture Earth as a flat plane, and picture a Moon and Sun traveling in orbits above that plane. In this model, a solar eclipse happens each time the Sun and Moon overlap, of course! Please note that if this example doesn’t make sense, it’s probably because you’re still imagining Earth as a sphere—or maybe because you have a basic understanding of the universe.
When the first world map was etched in stone by the Babylonians in 600 BCE, our planet started to take shape—and it looked like a disk, floating on an endless ocean. Later on, the Egyptians went another direction, envisioning Earth beneath a massive dome, with the goddess Nut arching in the sky overhead. Meanwhile, Filipinos came up with a way to explain eclipses: They told tales of the Bakunawa, a chaos-causing dragon who threatened to swallow the Sun if it wasn’t defeated. Provided the people on Earth made loud enough noises to scare off the Bakunawa, the Sun would eventually reappear—popping out of the dragon’s severed neck.
Many solar and lunar cycles later, in roughly 300 BCE, Greek philosopher Aristotle changed everything by mansplaining that, actually, our planet is rotating sphere. The flat-Earth theory was debunked.
Except... in 2017, in the case of people who think Earth is flat. What is it with flat-Earth theory that sticks? Why do people keep coming back to it? The current fascination with the idea of a flat Earth is split between entertainment and pseudoscience—the same kind of goofy conspiracy theory as the one insisting we never landed on the Moon, or that maybe you’re living inside your own version of The Truman Show.
When Thomas Dolby sang, “The earth can be any shape you want it” on his 1984 new wave album The Flat Earth, he was taking a poetic license. Unfortunately, one of the people listening to Flat Earth was Daniel Shenton, who took the lyric to heart and revived the defunct International Flat Earth Society, proclaiming himself president of its thousands of followers, who trade flat-Earth theories in sprawling discussion boards. “There is no unified flat-Earth model,” Shenton explained to the Guardian in 2010, “but the most commonly accepted one is that it’s more or less a disc, with a ring of something to hold in the water. The height and substance of that, no one is absolutely sure, but most people think it’s mountains with snow and ice.”
The cities in the background are approx. 16miles apart... where is the curve ? please explain this pic.twitter.com/YCJVBdOWX7— B.o.B (@bobatl) January 25, 2016
Beliefs like Shenton’s generally come up cyclically: a new map is proposed, or a new question is asked, and people wonder if things really are the way science has proven they are—at which point they’re debunked, and at which point it begins all over again. Just last year, YouTuber TigerDan925 racked up over six million views on his flat-Earth theory videos—before suddenly ending his channel, only halfway through his proposed 10-video series, “Flat Earth Deception,” in which he called Antarctica “a linchpin to the entire flat Earth movement” because it cannot be accurately measured on a flat-Earth map. Soon after, rapper B.o.B. tweeted a flat horizon at beloved astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, demanding an explanation. And last February, NBA player Kyrie Irving trended on Twitter due to his flat-Earth claims—before he casually suggested it was only clickbait. In the words of Irving himself, “the fact that this is even a conversation is hilarious.”
So if you had any doubt before, you can now assume (with Irving and Aristotle’s blessings) that you can safely pursue the Great American Solar Eclipse without driving off a flat horizon. Crank up the Thomas Dolby, because the dome will not shatter. On Monday at 10:15 am, the ball-shaped moon will pass precisely in between two other ball-shaped objects—Earth and the Sun—like it has for thousands of years, providing exact and indisputable evidence that we are, in fact, standing on a spinning sphere. Thank you Sun, thank you Moon, and thank you science.