by Ray Palmer reprinted from FLYING SAUCERS, June, 1960
Shown here is a photo of the earth taken from an Atlas ICBM at an altitude of 100 miles, purporting to show the curvature of the Earth. As will be proved in this article, this cannot be a fact; that to use this or other photos as evidence of the curvature of the Earth is to misconstrue the evidence. To those of us who have ever watched a ship sail to sea, it is evident that the Earth’s surface is curved, and that the curvature drops away from our own position in all directions. We have watched the ship go hull-down over the horizon, its funnels and mast last to disappear. To an observer on the shore, standing six feet tall, the ship disappears very rapidly; and at the most, his limit of vision is 23 miles, the distance of the horizon. Also, allowing his eyes to travel around the horizon, he notes it to be curved, and if he is located on a ship at sea, he can turn about until he describes a full 360 degree circle and finds that the horizon returns to its starting point. He thus sees an area of the Earth’s surface approximately 46 miles in diameter. If our observer goes up in an airplane, perhaps to a height of a mile, he finds that the horizon (by what is called optical-illusion?) ascends with him, so that although he has elevated himself a mile, the horizon also has seemed to elevate itself so that it is still directly ahead of him, at eye-level, and not below him, as he might suspect. Indeed, if he ascends ten miles, he finds the horizon still at eye-level. As high as man has been, in balloon or plane, he has found that the horizon has kept pace with him. The only difference due to his variation in height is a variation in the total area of the Earth’s surface he can see. At one mile, he can see a great deal more than he can at 6 feet. How much more can be accurately calculated by anyone with a little knowledge of geometry. But one thing is sure, it is a far cry from seeing the whole Earth.
Take a look at the Atlas picture which shows an area of the Earth extending approximately from Omaha, Nebraska to Mexico City, Mexico. The exact distance can be determined by anyone interested by consulting a map, or measuring it on a globe. In comparison to the total expanse of one hemisphere of the Earth, it is an area illustrated in Figure I. It is easy to see that Atlas’ camera can see, from its 100-mile-high perch, an area of the earth considerably less than the area of the United States of America. In relation to the North American continent as a whole, it is actually an insignificant portion. In relation to the two American continents, Europe and Africa, and portions of Asia, it is certainly far from the area of one side of Earth. No person in seriousness would claim that the curved line originating from the location given as Omaha and culminating in the location described as Mexico City would be the curvature of the surface of the Earth for the obvious reason that it would reduce the diameter of the Earth to less than one-eighth its actual diameter!
It is easy to see that Omaha is not virtually on the other side of the Earth from Mexico City, yet in this photograph our eyes tell us that this is so! The camera (which does not lie?) tells us that to a person standing in Omaha, an inhabitant of Mexico City, like the traditional “Chinaman,” stands with his head downward, and his feet toward those of the Citizen of Omaha! Obviously, this curve, which we are told is the curvature of the Earth, is not the curvature of a body 8,300 (approximately) miles in diameter, but merely the HORIZON as viewed from 100-miles up! The Atlas’ camera is seeing no more proof of the curvature of the Earth than our original observer standing on the seashore, watching a ship disappear below the horizon! All Atlas’ camera sees is a larger area than the earthbound observer. And it is an area circumscribed by that very same horizon that limits the range of ground observers, except that it is farther away.
The curve noticed is an optical illusion, an additionally pronounced distortion of the straight line (viewed horizontally) of the horizon, which is a property of all lenses, including the human eye. As we increase the distance from a horizontally placed straight line, the apparent curvature of it increases, inversely with the square of the distance. At a sufficient distance, it becomes a complete circle.
This curved line which purports to show the curvature of the Earth from 100 miles up is the horizon as seen from the Atlas, and the area covered is demonstrated by Figure II, which shows the incidence of the line of sight from the Atlas with the surface of the Earth, which actually is curved, but is limited to our position and the aberrations induced by circular lenses such those of a camera and those of the human eye. In this Atlas photograph, the camera has still been aimed horizontally, at right angles to the perpendicular, and what is being seen is still at eye level to the observer, be he human or camera!
Many of us have seen on our television screens, the movies of the curvature of the Earth taken from an Atlas. We have noted the curved side of the Earth as it moved jerkily past us in a vertical direction, and have marveled at seeing the actual curve of the Earth. But this, too, is an inadvertent (?) trick, for if we were to lie on our sides before the television set we would be treated to a peculiar illusion_the Earth curvature we marvel at as we sit erect now becomes merely the horizon, and even to our inexperienced eye, we know that it is in a straight line and the curve is only the progression of that line around us (as is the habit of horizons) in its effort to surround us completely in a full 360 degree circle!
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