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Episode 149 - Modern Flat Earth Thought, Part 2 (U.N. Flag and Airplane Flights)

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Recap: Flat Earth proponents have numerous claims that they use to promote the concept that Earth is flat. In this episode, we examine two of the claims that are somewhat related: The world looks like the United Nations flag (therefore "they" are "giving it away"), and airplane flights somehow prove Earth is flat.

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Episode Summary

Claim: There are two claims within the flat-Earth genre that are somewhat related for this discussion. First is that the United Nations flag shows a map that is promoted by the flat Earth groups, except that Antarctica is missing and the flat Earth is instead surrounded by a wreath. Because of this flag, it is a "tell" from those "in the know", as they are required to do so that when the Truth is Revealed, they can say that they told us all along and we were just too stupid to pick up on it. I may be mixing my conspiracies a bit on that, but you get the idea. The second claim for this episode is that airliners would necessarily want to take the shortest distance between two points to save time and fuel and passenger anger, and flights between destinations in the southern hemisphere make no sense on a globe but make perfect sense on a U.N. flag map. As I said, these are somewhat related.

Map Projections

I'm going to start to address the first claim without getting into the claim, but instead talking about map projections. This happens to be a topic I'm very familiar with because I study planetary surfaces in my day, night, morning, and evening job. Let's, for the moment, pretend Earth is spherical. I know, it's a bit of a stretch, but let's go there. We have a spherical planet. But pretty much every way we have of representing that planet is flat.

We have paper maps or drawings, we have flat computer screens and projectors, flat glass etchings in movies with the planet laid out. Therefore, we need some method to map out, or project, a spherical body onto a flat object.

And there are a huge number of ways that people have come up with over the centuries to do this. Each of the different methods have benefits and problems, and so each of them are used in different applications.

For example, one of the most common map projections that I use is called "equidistant cylindrical," invented around AD 120, a system nearly 2000 years old. This projection is reasonably easy to understand: Take a sphere, look at it edge-on, and that you see is how you map things onto the flat surface. Lines of latitude are evenly spaced, as are lines of longitude. And, they're straight on the projection.

This means that things at the equator have no distortion, but stuff near the poles look really stretched out horizontally. It has a nice property that distances that you measure along lines of longitude -- so, north-south -- are correct, regardless of where you are. It also has little distortion until you get poleward of around ±40° latitude, at least for my purposes of mapping out craters.

When I need to work closer to the poles, I switch map projections and I usually use polar stereographic. Polar stereographic is set such that either the north or south pole is in the center of the map, lines of longitude radiate like spokes on a wheel out from the center, and lines of latitude are circles around the center. The lines of latitude are evenly spaced on the map, also, so that if your line of 60° north latitude is 3" from the center, your line of 30° north latitude would be 6" from the center. This was invented by Hipparchos in 200 BC, so it's 2200 years old. This map doesn't preserve area, doesn't preserve distance, but it preserves shape, which is what I like when I'm working near the poles. In fact, on Wikipedia, it specifically notes, "Maps all small circles to circles, which is useful for planetary mapping to preserve the shapes of craters." If I have to make real measurements, I use other projections. Or, I use my own software I've written which I'll talk about in the second claim about airplane flights.

Perhaps the most common map projection that you'll be familiar with is the Mercator projection. This projection is probably what your maps in school used, and if you go to Google Maps, it's what you'll see if you zoom way out, or a very close approximation of Mercator. It's the one that makes Greenland look larger than the rest of North America. The projection works by ensuring that all lines of bearing, so direction, are preserved and the same, so it's useful in navigation. This stretches near the poles poles but it tends to preserve shape if not distance or area, which can be a nice property. It's often used in climate maps and marine charts. It was invented in 1569 by Gerardus Mercator.

Another common projection used in my field as well as cosmology, like for showing maps of the galaxy or the cosmic microwave background radiation, is called a Mollweide projection. It's overall shape is an ellipse, lines of latitude are straight and get closer together as you get to the poles, and the lines of longitude are curved except for the one in the center which is straight. It's a projection that distorts the shapes of things, but any area you measure on it will be correct. It was invented by Karl Mollweide in 1805.

If you're interested in this, I'll link to a good resource in the shownotes which, surprise surprise, is Wikipedia. It has a nice list of lots of map projections, when they were created, and what their properties are.

My point in going through all this is that there are a lot of different ways to represent a three-dimensional body on a two-dimensional object. How you do it completely depends on what you want to emphasize and how you want to emphasize it.

Which brings us to the flag of the United Nations. The flag is light blue with a white design in the middle, and the white design is a map of the planet from 90° N latitude to -60° latitude. The projection is an Azimuthal Equidistant, a map projection created in about A.D. 1000 by Abū Rayḥān al-Bīrūnī. It has the nice property that distances from whatever point is at the center is correct. But for the UN flag, it makes sense because it ensures that no one country holds prominence over another. In fact, earlier versions of the flag had a similar projection but the USA was at the center. It was moved in later iterations, just as it was also rotated to its current state and extended to -60° S to include every country and prevent any favored position. This is the only relatively simple map projection that can do this without severe distortions. The design also includes latitude lines at 30° intervals -- fairly standard, including in my own publications -- and it includes eight lines of longitude radiating from the +60°N line of latitude. These latitude and longitude lines are fairly thick which prevents more being drawn if you want to preserve readability.

But let's get to some of the conspiracy. [Clip from "Dark City," interviewing Mark Sargent, starting at 37:11]:

"When I was looking through the list of map projections on Wikipedia, I stumbled across a map that was identical to the flat Earth map. [...] So, I was going through the list of map projections, and I run into this map called the 'Azimuthal Equidistant' map. Uh, and there's a lot of really interesting things about it. (1) It was the only map in the list of projections that was actually endorsed by the USGS. Which was, uh, the United States Geological Survey. And, I thought 'Okay, that's-that's really strange, why would the United States uh Government, you know, the premier map makers of the world, uh why would they be using uh this map in their projection system?' And then I look at the origins. You know, it's like, oh, wh-when was this map model created? It was created 1000 years ago, and I go, 'That's even stranger!' because 1000 years ago, we thought the Earth wa-was flat. But it was— 1000 years ago, it was created by a guy, and I won't give his long name, he was a Persian scientist named al-Biruni. And I was goin', 'Man, there's gotta be a typo! There's no way th-- why-why would the United States, uh, government be using a map, uh, where the design was done by a thousand-year-old Persian scientist.' And then I'm looking, and the Persian scientist - you keep following the links - and the Persian scientist, uh NASA knows full-well who this guy is, they-they've got a moon crater named the al-Biruni crater! You know, supposedly, on the moon! Named after this guy! And I was going, 'Okay,' and then to throw one more wrinkle on this map, of all the map projections, this is the one that gets the most traffic. It's got all these little-little annotations next to it. And the other thing this map is known for is the exact map of the UN flag. So when you look at the UN flag, how the continents sorta grouped at the center? That's what the flat Earth map is.

There is a lot in there, but I like to give you the full quote so you can follow it all and see how really incomprehensible it is without me interrupting. This stuff is hard enough to interpret as it is. Clearly, Mark has a few issues with this map projection.

First, he says it's the only map projection "endorsed by the USGS." This makes no sense and is wrong. Just as I am not going to tell you if you should put your left sock on first or your right sock on first, the USGS is not in the habit of specifically endorsing a map projection, pretty much for the same reasons I talked about before: each projection has its own uses. It may be true that Wikipedia's list of map projections only lists a specific application by the USGS for this particular projection, but that doesn't mean it's the only projection "endorsed" by the USGS. In fact, I have been involved with publishing maps with the USGS. I have never used this projection. We've used Molleweide, Sinusoidal, Equidistant Cylindrical, Polar Stereographic, and most recently, I'm involved in a mapping project over 4% over the surface of Mercury and we're using a Lambert Conformal over our mapping area because it represents the particular area well with minimal distortion.

Second, Mark seems to really take issue with the origins of this map projection. I don't know if there's racism involved due to his repeated mention of the creator being Persian, or if it's just a general Argument Against Antiquity -- the opposite of what we normally face in skepticism which is the Argument from Antiquity. My response to this is, who cares? The reason I pointed out when and who created the projections that I commonly use is to show that they've been generated by a wide variety of people over the course of over two millennia. When and who created it is really irrelevant for its utility. As for it being a named lunar crater, that's not NASA, that's the International Astronomical Union, approved in 1970, to honor the Persian astronomer, mathematician, and geographer.

In fact, this gets to the third issue, we did not think back then that Earth was flat. In fact, al-Bīrūnī was able to use a very similar measurement scheme that the Greek Eratosthenes used centuries earlier - shadows from sticks - to measure the circumference of the planet. The whole idea that people way back when thought Earth was flat is very much a modern creation, and certainly, even if some in power in Europe during the medieval period thought Earth was flat, the Islamic world was at the center of learning and knew quite well that Earth was spherical.

And fourth, he says that it gets the most traffic and has lots of annotations. I have no idea what he's talking about there, it doesn't make any sense, so let's just move on.

And, that's that for the flag. Oh, except this little tidbit. [Clip from "The Higherside Chats," from 29 March 2015, starting at 19:05]:

"If you uh, if you count the number of holes they've got there in the [unintelligible] flag, there's exactly 33. So what they've got is a flat Earth divided into 33 sections, and I'm sure you're aware that 33 is a significant occult number, especially among the Free Masons, who are the one in charge of this whole deception, as I said from all the way back to Pythagorus, the first Free Mason, who thought up this ball Earth theory through Copernicus and Galileo, and Newton, and uh right up to today Neil deGrasse Tyson, et cetera.

My only response to that one? [Sigh]

Flight Paths

On to the second claim for the episode, flight paths, and airplanes in general. A very common claim made by flat-Earth proponents -- because they almost universally believe that the flat Earth looks very similar to, if not exactly like, the United Nations flag -- is that airplanes will fly weird routes to get from point A to B in the southern hemisphere which make sense on their U.N.-Flag map but not on a globe.

To talk about this, there are a couple points of background that I need to address first. The first I alluded to in the previous claim about map projections where I said that if I have to measure distances or area, I have my own software that does this. That's because it's not a simple calculation. Now, yes, if you want to travel from your house to your friend's down the road, you can approximate Earth as a flat surface with no curvature and get to the same answer. But if you want to travel from Saskatchewan in Canada, which I didn't know was a real place until a few years ago, to, say, Melbourne in Australia, approximations that work over short distances really don't work anymore.

The shortest distance between two points on a sphere is the path that is a Great Circle between those two points. A Great Circle path is defined as the intersection of a plane that goes through those two points on the surface of the sphere, and the planet's center -- basically, any path that if traced around the whole globe would cut the planet exactly in half. The equator is a Great Circle because it slices the planet in half. 0° longitude traced over the pole to 180° longitude traced to the next pole is a Great Circle because it cuts the planet in half. If you're not on the equator, like if I'm flying from Seattle, WA, USA, to London, UK, the Great Circle will take me on a northerly path until I get about half-way to London and then take me back south to the UK. On a flat map under almost any map projection, this looks like a ridiculously LONGER route. But it's not. It's just how things are. That also means that if I wanted to go from Saskatchewan to Melbourne, the fastest route would look something like an S-shape on a flat map due to my crossing the equator.

As for my own software, there's a US Naval technical paper authored by T. Vincenty in 1975 that provides the method to chart out Great Circles, given a starting latitude or longitude, and compass bearing if you assume the magnetic poles are aligned with the spin axes. These calculations are an integral part of a lot of what I personally do in my research because I have to calculate distances and bearings on a sphere all the time to make sure I measure things correctly. Similarly, measuring areas as opposed to lengths on a sphere is also complicated, but that doesn't factor into airplane routes, so that may be a story for a different podcast episode. It also may not.

The point of this background tidbit is that if you assume there is no wind, then the most fuel- and time-efficient flight path for any airplane is a Great Circle, barring weird weather such as a hurricane in your way. But, generally speaking airplanes don’t travel precisely along Great Circles. Besides weather, the primary reason for this is that the routes and methods of navigation were designed around ground-based radio navigation stations. At least in the US, you have ground stations scattered across the country that airplanes are required to pass within range of, and the range for each is roughly 150 miles or 250 km. So it's something like a game of catch, where, say, after a plane I'm on leaves Denver's range, that plane is expected to fly from navigation station to navigation station as it crosses the country. Because these navigational stations very rarely align with the Great Circle route between two airports in the US's airspace, planes often have to take a somewhat zig-zag route between the different stations.

That's in contrast with overseas flights, or perhaps flights over more desolate areas of the planet like Kansas, Siberia, or 90% of Canada. In many of those areas, the plane can take more direct, Great Circle paths between stations, and those are visible on flight trackers or, if you're weird like me, you can see it on the GPS tracks you keep because you have a field GPS you leave on while you're in flight. So, when I travel between Denver and Houston for an annual conference in March, looking at the tracks I've recorded, it's pretty much straight lines between different ground stations. But, when I took a vacation to Spain this past April, my flight from Chicago, IL flew over Detroit, Montreal, hit two stations in Newfoundland, and then is almost a perfect Great Circle to Frankfurt. The flight from Frankfurt to Barcelona was ridiculously circuitous, which may be standard for European flights, but then as soon as my flight back from Madrid hit international waters, it's again almost a perfect Great Circle arc until we hit the range of the radar near Trepassey Bay in Newfoundland.

Now, a Flat Earth proponent may argue that makes sense given the UN map. Okay, fine, let's get into the actual claim now that I've belabored some of the background information about airplane flights. This is from flat-Earth proponent Mark Sargent. [Clip from "Dark City," interviewing Mark Sargent, starting at 30:06]:

"There's certain rules that cannot be broken, uh, on a flat map. And one of them is, uh there are no shortcuts when it comes to a flat map, which means the plane routes in the southern hemisphere -- northern hemisphere, which would be the inner circle -- would be fine, but the southern hemisphere which would be where the plane routes are wrong. [...] So, when I was looking at the plane routes in the southern hemisphere, there were a lot of interesting things that kept leaping out at me. Uh, one was if you were going to hide the routes in the southern hemisphere, the first thing you would do is you would have as few or none, if possible, non-stops if possible. So if you were flying anywhere from, say, South America to anywhere near Australia, you-- it should just be a straight shot across the south pacific ocean. You know, no airspaces to deal with, 12 hours, piece of cake [...]. You can't find those flights, most of the time. And so when I did 'Clue 7' which was called 'The Long Haul,' [...] 95% of the flights in the southern hemisphere are connections. And they're weird connections. [...] These connections go really really into strange places, and I'll give you a perfect example. Like if you're flyin' from Rio to, say, Sidney, Australia, right? should just be a straight shot, southern hemisphere. Why in the world would you ever connect through Los Angeles, or San Francisco, or Dallas? Why would you go through the-the northern hemisphere at all, almost doubling your-your-your length. And people say, 'Well you're picking up people!' Yeah, sorta, that might make sense, except when you take, the-i-it on a globe, it's sort of a weird, arcing angle, but if you put that same plane route on a flat map, it almost turns into a perfect— either really really shallow dog leg or almost perfectly straight. The odds of that happening were really really slim."

This gets to the second piece of background information that I avoided addressing before: What's efficient for you as a traveler, is likely not efficient for the airline. What I mean is this: Let's say the airline, from experience, can only get 20 people who want a flight directly from Denver to Houston. I'm totally making these numbers and routes up, but stick with me. Let's say they also know that they have 20 people wanting to go from Denver to Austin and 20 people wanting to go from Denver to Boston and 20 people wanting to go from Denver to Los Angeles. It would be very inefficient to send four planes in four different directions from Denver with only 20 people on each plane.

Therefore, the airline may not offer a direct flight between these cities. It just doesn't make sense. So what they do is they create a hub and spoke system. In this hypothetical case, you load all those people wanting to go somewhere from Denver onto a single plane and fly them to, say, Phoenix. In Phoenix, you then fill up a single plane to Houston with all the small groups of people from all over the country, so now that plane to Houston has 200 people instead of 20. Which means, if I want to fly from Denver to Houston, I have to go by way of Phoenix. I have to go almost in the opposite direction from where I want to end up.

I am positive that 99% or more of you have had this same experience. To give a real-world example, when I first did the two-body problem for Thanksgiving travel, I flew from Denver to Detroit, so from one side of the country to the middle, stayed a few days there, and then flew Detroit to Cincinnati, just one state away, by way of South Carolina, 5 states away. Every year since then, I've just driven from Detroit to Cincinnati, and it's taken less time and it's been cheaper. As another example, in two weeks I'm going to New York from Denver, by way of Atlanta, GA. Yes, flying Delta, so I'm going through their Atlanta hub. Or, I'm writing this episode on a plane where the route is from Denver to Chicago. By way of Baltimore. So, western part of the US to the East Coast to the middle of the country.

This is a very long way of answering the issue that Mark Sargent raised. The reason that airlines don't fly many direct routes *BETWEEN CONTINENTS* in the southern hemisphere is because very few people want those routes. They definitely do fly within the southern hemisphere, for when I visited Australia several years ago I took three flights within the continent after it was pointed out to me that Australia is not a small country and it was not feasible to drive. Also that you can't drive to Tasmania.

But, I also did some investigation beyond this basic fact of commerce. And, I found a South African Airways flight that offers a non-stop route from Johannesburg, South Africa, to Perth, Australia. It takes 9.5 hours to get there, and it takes 10.75 hours to get back. That would be impossible on a Flat Earth map unless the airplanes broke basic laws of how they are engineered and flew 2-3x faster than they can, exceeding the speed of sound in the process, which we know they don’t do. That's because on a flat Earth, the distance between Johannesburg and Perth is about 2-3x the distance between New York and London. But, a New York to London flight is about 7 hours, which is fully 3/4 the time as opposed to 30-50% the time.

Or, the planes in the northern hemisphere all fly slower than they're designed to, which is worse for fuel efficiency, means they can't sell as many tickets because they can't get as many flights in, and make passengers more annoyed and stressed than they already are because they take too long. But, this is why if you believe in a flat Earth, pretty much everything is a conspiracy and that's how this is dismissed.

There are other examples, too. In fact you can go to several airlines' websites and find route maps. South African Airways also flies directly from Johannesburg to São Paulo, and Buenos Aires. Qantas flies directly from Johannesburg to Perth and to Sydney, Sydney to Santiago in Chile or to Buenos Aires in Argentina, all direct southern hemisphere flights. Oh, but wait -- Mark has an excuse for that: [Clip from "Dark City," interviewing Mark Sargent, starting at 32:25]:

"People, after Clue 7, they were saying, 'Well, you know, we found a non-stop.' Everyone kept sending me this Qantas flight 64. I think there's like five non-stops within the entire southern hemisphere which, that alone should raise some alarm bells. But people were saying— people again wanna hold onto the globe! So they were saying, 'No! This proves– This proves uh, round Earth if-if there's these non-stops!' So, I started paying attention to the non-stops. There's um, uh the GPS system that gets fed into various databases, but it's all based off the same system. GPS, of course, is Department of Defense, United States built it. And— which went online in about 1995. And I was watching these flights, and I was watching the-the southern hemisphere, and again, you can go into any of these flight trackers and the southern hemisphere oceans uh will be empty. And I start watching these flights, and I'm waiting for these non-stops, and I'm seeing nothing. And so finally I say, 'Wait! Where are the freakin' planes!' All— any of them, even the connections! And as a plane starts going— leaving, let's say from South America on its way to Australia or back-and-forth, it gets about 150 miles, 250— or 200 miles off the coast, and it just disappears off the GPS system entirely! And I was goin' "That's odd"— and they all start doin' that. And not only do they drop off visually, but if you look at the individual flight records, the plane records change to, from latitude and longitude, to approximate or estimated. Basically, the plane doesn't exist in the GPS system anymore. And then it flies its route, whatever route that is, and then an hour before touchdown it blinks back on, just off the coast of wherever it's-it's about to land, and it comes back on, and it lands! Everybody's happy! But the route cannot be proven. And that-that's-that's when you know, there's only so many uh, coincidences I can see and end up going, 'Oh, that's very very clever.' It's like, if you don't want to show people how the route is being taken in the southern hemisphere, you just 'disappear' all the routes in the southern hemisphere."

Okay, there's a heck of a lot in there, so I want to quickly respond to everything but the meat of why I played that clip. First, he's right that there are few INTERCONTINENTAL flights in the southern hemisphere, but there are a huge number of inTRAcontinental flights in the southern hemisphere, like Melbourne to Sydney. Second, he doesn't know how GPS works: The GPS receiver gets timing information from satellites, it knows where the satellites are, and based on the time it really is versus when the signal its receiving says the time was when the satellite says it is, it can figure out the distance to the satellite. Get at least four, and you know your position in 3D space. Because we're a sphere, you need at least four satellites. But the important part is that this is entirely passive on the part of your GPS receiver: No US government intervention or processing required. Third, as I've already mentioned, you can't fake the time it takes for the flights to happen, and you can't fake the speed of the aircraft. If the southern hemisphere flights were to suddenly increase in speed as soon as they got off the tracking system, everyone would know it because they would feel the acceleration. Or if northern hemisphere flights were all traveling at 30% the speed of southern hemisphere flights, you'd know it.

Which gets us to the main part of this claim that I wanted to discuss, in part because listener Adam D. wrote in on September 19 asking about it, and that's this idea of flights disappearing off the tracking system. And you'll note: I did not say the "GPS system" as Mark did. That's because there's no such thing ... yet.

It's interesting that Mark stated that these planes disappear about 200 miles off the coast of whatever continent they're leaving, and then they reappear about the same distance from the coast for the continent they're getting to. That just so happens to be that distance I mentioned before for the range of these ground tracking stations. That's because the only way these tracking stations know - and therefore, the only way these flight tracking internet software applications know where these flights are is that the plane reports it to the station and the station confirms it. Modern planes usually do have a GPS, and so they constantly know where they are. But the only way that information gets to the ground and then to the internet is that they are in sight of and contact with a ground station, the ground station specifically pings that plane, and the plane's transponder responds with a lot of information including the information from the GPS. But when you're in the middle of the Pacific ocean, with no station to report to, no one but those on the plane know where you are.

Incidentally, that's why these plane crashes at sea are so hard to track, because there isn't a tracking system in place. That's also why a lot of safety experts and politicians are pushing for a better, satellite-based system, but it's expensive and no one wants to pay for it. And so, we are left not only with a seriously out-of-date system that costs time and fuel due to zigzag paths over land, but also weird conspiracies and unresolved tragedies over the ocean.

Oh, and by the way, you may remember I said that the limit for these ground stations is around 150 miles. Coincidentally, if you recall the discussion from episode 145 about your horizon line and how far you can see, this is just a little short of how far a plane can see at a comfortable cruising altitude of 35,000 ft. If the ground station is in a valley, or there's a hill in the way, or something else, that reduces the range which is why the 150 miles is the number that's usually given to be safe. Nice how these numbers line up …

Beyond the discussion about flight routes, there are other flat-Earth claims related to airplane flights. [Clip from "The Higherside Chats," from 29 March 2015, starting at 39:08]:

"Here's a good question: Why don't pilots catch on to this fact? If-if the Earth was truly a sphere, 25,000 miles in circumference, curving at 8" per mile-squared, a pilot wanted to simply maintain their altitude at a typical cruising speed of 500 miles per hour would have to constantly dip their nose downwards and descend 2777 feet, over half a mile, every minute. Otherwise, without this compensation, in an hour's time, the pilot would find themselves 166,666 feet, 31.5 miles, higher than expected. You just end up flying off into outer space if you weren't constantly dipping your nose down to fly around the ball."

This claim is one that's fairly silly ... or sillier. You fly to keep the horizon level and your altimeter steady. You fly to stay in the same layer of air. You're flying relative to Earth's gravity, not relative to an imaginary point in the solar system. You point your nose up or down as required to maintain that altitude.

The next claim is a bit more involved. [Clip from "The Higherside Chats," from 29 March 2015, starting at 43:37]:

"Now we have airplanes, which you can go easterly or westerly and if the Earth and the atmosphere are spinning 1000 mph east all the wa— time, as they say, then a west-bound plane should be— We-well, an east-bound plane should never reach its destination if it was going 500 mph and the Earth is spinning, and the atmosphere is spinning 1000 miles, your destination should come up behind you before you ever reach it, right? And then destinations going the opposite way are gonna take far, far longer than they do. You can check flight times, and they're always within a half-hour, hour, couple hours, with no matter what direction you're going to or from, but if the Earth is actually spinning at the rate they say it was, flight times would be totally different."

I'm going to talk about this more in a few minutes, but for now, I'll just say that the atmosphere at the ground travels at the same speed as the ground. If it didn't, you would be feeling that claimed 1000 mph wind as soon as you step outside. But with that said, there is wind. Wind happens for two primary reasons on Earth. One is uneven heating by the sun: The sun heats something up, there is now a disequilibrium, and a wind forms to try to make everything even. There's a lot more physics to this, but it's unimportant for this story.

The second part is Coriolis where objects on a rotating sphere tend to be deflected from the direction of motion by moving towards the pole. That means if Earth is spinning such that a point in the northern hemisphere is moving from west to east (such that the sun rises east and sets west), that point is going to be deflected to the north pole, or to the right. In the southern hemisphere, that point will be deflected to the south pole, or to the left.

For THIS discussion, it's not important for me to get into the details of why this happens, but it's important to mention the effect because it affects winds. And those factors together make up our weather patterns, along with topography, bodies of water versus land, etc. etc. etc. The point is that there's wind. So, if we didn't have a star and we were perhaps a ridiculously slowly rotating planet, our atmosphere would almost be perfectly stationary relative to the ground, and it would move with the ground. But since that's not the situation, we do have motion in the atmosphere, and because we're a big planet with lots of things going on, we have lots of complicated weather patterns.

And, this is a case where I think Eric caught himself giving away the answer. Flight times ARE different depending upon which direction you're traveling. You can look at flight times yourself, so in this case I'll just use a few personal ones since I've recorded several dozen of my flights. I've done a lot of travel over the last two years between Denver and Baltimore, which is about 1500 miles or 2400 km, and it's almost a due-East or due-West flight. Over the 10 flights back-and-forth that I have recorded, going East has consistently taken 2 hours 55 minutes to 3 hours 05 minutes, and coming back West has consistently taken 3 hours 30 minutes to 3 hours 55 minutes. The reason is that going East in North America, you have prevailing winds pushing you along, called a tail wind. Going West is the opposite, and you have what's called a head wind.

Now, this doesn't necessarily prove nor disprove the flat Earth, but it does completely shoot down what Eric was talking about, though it's probably not good for me to use the term "shoot down" in a discussion about airplanes.

Ending with Argument from the Gut

I want to wrap this episode up with a bit of a gratuitous quote from both Mark Sargent and Eric Dubay. Although Flat Earth proponents rarely get along and agree on much of anything, they do agree on this, and I thought it a good set of ideas to end on. First up is Mark Sargent. [Clip from "Fade to Black," Episode 376, starting at 2:09:23]:

"The Earth rotates at about 1060 mph at the equator, if you believe mainstream science. And it's also spinning around the sun at about 60,000 mph. Combine those two, you know, the fact that the solar system is moving, that's a lot of speed! But 1000 mph, it does some interesting interesting things. Because science has to, uh, deal with [...] questions that the common person on the street is gonna ask. One is, uh, okay, how is the atmosphere dealing with the fact that we're spinning at 1000 mph? Is the atmosphere going with us? And, you know, they— is gravity locking down the atmosphere? If it is, you know is it also locking down the oceans? And you also have that weird thing about the planes. Because the people brought up— now, I didn't bring up in the clues because I-I try to bring as much math and numbers out of the clues as possible because I try, you know, to make sure that Joe Lunchbox on the street would be able to figure it out - and that was— but it's an interesting question, and that is if you have a plane that goes, you know [...] it's either going with the spin or it's going against the spin. So a plane goes from like Los Angeles to New York, is gravity holding, you know, [...] shouldn't the Earth be— when it gets up to a certain height and speed, shouldn't the Earth be moving? Shouldn't it be escaping some of the gravitational forces of the Earth? [...] Shouldn't that hundreds of mph thing be factoring in there? And as mainstream science would say, 'Well, no, no, gravity's keeping the plane and it's relative, and it's keeping the plane,' and I'm going, 'Yeah, but it's doing it both ways?!' It's-it's-it's-it's locking it down with, and against the spin? It's-it's really really interesting, and, you know, it's-it's not a satisfactory answer from a lot of mainstream science— again, the burden of proof is on them."

There's a lot in there, including some stuff I've already talked about, a question about whose burden it is to back something up, a strawman on scientists, some things that are just incomprehensible, etc., but the root, underlying thought in that 1 minute 45 second statement is relative motion and common sense.

This is the same thing that Eric Dubay does in what I've termed, "Argument from Gut." It's a bit long, and it starts with the host playing devil's advocate. [Clip from "The Higherside Chats," from 29 March 2015, starting at 41:03]:

GC: "Like, we're told that the Earth is spinning at 1000 mph, which is awfully fast, but yet, I'll say a helicopter can not just hover in the air for 12 hours, you know, start in St. Louis, MO, hover for 12 hours, and land in China with the Earth spinning below it. And, you know, that is what I would first think would be the situation. But then we're told we're in this sphere, it all moves relative to itself, and you don't notice those changes, and see, I'm not a physicist, I'm not a pilot, and so it's hard for me to really play devil's advocate for their position. But, I think about, if you're in a speeding car going 90 mph down the highway, you can play catch with a passenger, and it feels like you're stationary. Or like if an ant is crawling around on your dashboard, whether it's going with the grain of your car or against, it doesn't really notice that effect. So, it's like um, you know I guess I would think that the atmosphere would have the same effect as the encapsulation of that vehicle moving at a fast speed to the people inside of that, they don't notice. And I guess that's the argument. But do you— do you find flaws with that argument?

ED: "Yeah, 'cause once again, it's explaining away your common sense and your experience which is that you're not moving whatsoever. And so they say, 'Hahahaha yes, you are moving, silly, but you're just moving at such a constant velocity that you don't notice it whatsoever. ' Now, even if you're in the best Rolls Royce, over the best tar [...] smoothly going, you close your eyes, I can still tell I'm moving, and that's not going 1000 mile an hour, that's just goin' 50 or whatever we're talkin' about here. Even in an elevator, just an elevator going up, I can feel that, I have a- really sensitive stomach. So I mean, I can tell, I get sick, if you know, if um, I'm doing some sort of motion that's anything on par with what the Earth is supposed to be doing. And so, isn't that weird that uh, just because it's a perfect, constant velocity that my stomach is able to handle that but just a-a-a little bit of an elevator malfunction and I'm ready to, you know .... These things don't make any sense, they just want to explain away your common sense with these kind of arguments. And, like you said, if you were in a helicopter you should just be able to go up, wait for the ball earth to spin underneath you, and land at your destination. But of course, the atmosphere spins with the ball Earth so that doesn't happen. But, we can prove that that's not the case, either, because now we have airplanes ..."

That led into the quote that I already addressed about airplanes traveling east versus west and taking different amounts of time.

The reason I wanted to play both of these clips is because it once again gets to the question of your common sense. For all practical purposes for you, in your every-day life, you are not generally moving, and certainly you are not on a spinning planet. And even if this does factor into your daily life, you still don't feel it.

However, the excuse Eric gave is just silly, which makes me wonder if he's one of the people who just says this stuff because he wants to be a jerk or if he really believes it. But, his true beliefs and his motivations here are irrelevant.

What is relevant is that he gave the exact answer in his response. Two answers, really. First, to the host's question about a helicopter, it *IS* the atmosphere that he ridiculed. But it's also your own motion. So let's dissect what I mean by that. If you stand outside, do you feel the air whipping by you at 1000 mph? I didn't think so. That fact proves that the air is moving (or not moving) with the same speed you are moving or not moving. Therefore, anything embedded within the air and not touching the ground gets that same benefit. The second part of this is that even if I were on some body in the solar system without an atmosphere, like, say, Ariel, a moon of Uranus, and I jumped really high and slowly came back to the ground, I still would land almost exactly where I jumped off. The reason is that because I'm standing on Ariel, I now have the same velocity that that position on Ariel does. The same spin. If I jump, I still have that spin unless something affects me to remove that spin motion. So it's really both things together on Earth that mean you can't just take off vertically, hover, and land in a different spot.

The second answer he gave that's correct is that because you don't have any net ACCELERATION, meaning that your velocity is not changing, you can't tell you're moving. I happen to be writing this episode on October 2 while I'm on a plane flight from Denver to Baltimore. I'm one of those nerds and I have a field GPS with me and, looking at it now, I am traveling at an average speed of 875 kph, or about 540 mph. That is, of course, relative to the ground. I felt the acceleration when we took off, going from 0 to over 100 in under a minute. But once we stopped accelerating and reached a constant speed, and once we stopped climbing and reached a constant altitude, and once we stopped banking and reached a constant velocity, now that I'm in the middle of the country the only way I know I'm moving is looking outside the plane and feeling the tiny tiny bumps. Those bumps are tiny accelerations, little permutations on my constant velocity. If I were in a perfectly smooth-flying aircraft and did not have a window, there is absolutely no way I could tell I'm moving if I were at a constant velocity. Same thing with Earth.

But none of this is necessarily intuitive. It might be to a physicist, but that's only because a physicist has spent years of their life learning that their every-day experience is not necessarily the underlying process of how the world works. And again, that's why skepticism isn't necessarily easy. Pseudoscience tends to prey on common sense or easily made misconceptions which is why a mind willing to learn and investigate and explore is the only way to combat it.

Provide Your Comments:

Comments to date: 3. Page 1 of 1. Average Rating:

Robert Szasz   California

1:04am on Thursday, December 29th, 2016 

Plane trackers are based primarily on ABS-B, a autonomous reporting system used for a bunch of things including traffic avoidance. There is some timing based trilateration on transponder responses to radar interrogation, but mostly it's ads-b self reporting of altitude and location picked up on civilian stations (you can get a dirt cheap RTL tuner and free software to see the planes yourself)

Stuart R   Lyons, CO, USA

11:53am on Thursday, October 27th, 2016

Yup, his clips are "special."

Paul   Los Angeles

12:06am on Saturday, October 22nd, 2016 

Wow... That clip near the beginning of John Sargent Whatever-His-Name is quite possibly the stupidest series of words I've heard from any of the numerous C2C clips you've played over the last nearly 150 episodes. I can't imagine even the dullest science-illiterate person starting at that Wikipedia page and taking that mental route to arrive at the conclusion he proposes. No way.

"The only map endorsed by the USGS" ??
"The US government, THE premiere map-makers of the world" (emphasizing there's literally zero sarcasm in his meaning) ???
He's in utter disbelief that a Persian mapmaker came up with this projection system 1 thousand years ago? That's suspicious to him that we might still use that system of projection?

Wow. Wait until he hears how long ago Euclid lived and that his system of geometry is STILL being used today. I'm just dying to know what long-held suspicions that little tidbit will confirm for him.

Seriously... just ... Wow.

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