According to the American Physical Society, thousands of years ago people conjectured that the Earth might be spherical. Since then, scientists have uncovered a wealth of evidence to support this — including observing Earth itself from space.

However, claims that the earth is flat continue to circulate.

Why people think the earth is flat

Experts say claims of a flat earth endure in large part because of the repetition made possible by social media.

“You could think of this as a feedback loop of misinformation,” said Jeffery Blevins, a professor at the University of Cincinnati who specializes in misinformation. “If you have just one false claim from one source that’s being repeated by other sources on social media and fringe businesses, it suddenly sounds like it’s coming from all these different sources. And when all these sources are saying the same thing, then people – wrongly – think there must be something to it.”

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The USA TODAY fact-check team has examined a wide range of claims related to a flat earth, including ones based on misconceptions about how the earth’s rotation feels or how airplanes can fly “straight and level” when the earth is not flat. We’ve also debunked variations on the related conspiracy theory that outer space isn’t real.

Here is a summary of our work:

Flat earth theories of motion, other science

Claim: The earth is not curved and does not rotate

Our rating: Wrong

The Earth curves and rotates, and there are several ways scientists have proven this, experts say. The curvature of the earth can be seen from an elevated vantage point, and the rotation of the earth affects daily functions such as airplane flight paths. That rotation just isn’t felt because humans sense acceleration, not speed. Continue reading.

Claim: The earth is not curved or moving; Air pressure could not exist ‘without a tank’

Our rating: Wrong

Numerous pieces of evidence, including photos, atmospheric processes, lunar eclipses, and the movement of stars, demonstrate the Earth’s curve and movement. The gas pressure in Earth’s atmosphere is caused by gravity pulling matter toward the planet’s core, so no “container” is required. Continue reading.

Claim: A compass would not work if the earth was spherical

Our rating: Wrong

Compasses are based on the magnetic field lines that circle the earth. The needle does not point to the true geographic location of magnetic north. Continue reading.

Claim: Antarctica is an ice wall surrounding a flat earth

Our rating: Wrong

Satellite images show the shape of the continent, which is not an ice wall anywhere in the world. Explorers have circumnavigated the landmass, and people visit it every year. The concept of the ice wall is also not realistic from a static point of view, experts said. Continue reading.

Claim: Laser tests show bodies of water are flat, proving the earth is flat

Our rating: Wrong

Scientists say the claim is based on flawed logic. Laser beam testing under uncontrolled conditions, particularly over water, is not a reliable means of proving the shape of the Earth due to atmospheric refraction. Additionally, scientists say the test outlined in the post’s diagram is not large enough to show the curve of the Earth. Continue reading.

Claim: The earth is flat because cities cannot stand on their heads

Our rating: Wrong

Gravity pulls objects to the center no matter where people or cities are on Earth. There is no real “up” or “down” in space. Continue reading.

Claim: Earth’s oceans have no ‘height features’ and are in a ‘container’

Our rating: Wrong

The sea surface has topography due to currents, underwater features, and other factors. Ocean water is held on earth by gravity. Continue reading.

Claim: Radar technology wouldn’t work if the earth was a sphere

Our rating: Wrong

Scientists say the logic of the post is flawed and that radar technologies are to blame

the curvature of the earth. In addition, the curvature of the earth plays a role in some of the limitations of radar technology. Continue reading.

Flat Earth theories on the horizon line

Claim: Photograph of a solar eclipse taken at the South Pole proves the Earth is flat

Our rating: Wrong

The scientists explained that a variety of factors, including the location and time of the photos, accounted for why the sun appears to move in a straight line. Time-lapse images of the eclipse from around the world show a curved path in the sky. Continue reading.

Claim: Airplanes flying “straight and level” prove the earth is flat

Our rating: Wrong

This concept does not mean that planes literally fly in a straight line. It is a technique that involves flying at a constant altitude in the same direction. Pilots must constantly make adjustments to maintain speed and altitude. An airplane flying from one place to another would never be upside down because the earth has no top or bottom of its own. Continue reading.

Claim: Image of Chicago skyline taken in Indiana proves the Earth is flat

Our rating: Wrong

Scientists say the post’s calculations are wrong, and the photo actually proves otherwise. The Chicago skyline is visible from the photo’s location in Indiana Dunes State Park, but the curvature of the earth means the bottom of the buildings are obscured. Continue reading.

Flat Earth theories about space and astronauts

Claim: The absence of stars in space photos means they were created with a green screen

Our rating: Wrong

Stars don’t appear in many space photos because they are too dark to be detected with the camera settings required to capture brighter objects. Continue reading.

Claim: The video shows NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg in front of a green screen

Our rating: Wrong

The woman in the video is not Nyberg, but a flat earth believer participating in a skit. Nyberg’s rep confirmed that she is not in the video. Continue reading.

Claim: Propulsion can’t work in vacuum, so space travel isn’t real

Our rating: Wrong

Rocket engines work by generating thrust that moves the spacecraft in the opposite direction. This process works in a vacuum. Air or another “external medium” is not required. Continue reading.

Claim: Space is a hoax because astronauts don’t train in vacuum chambers

Our rating: Wrong

NASA astronauts train in both pools and vacuum chambers to prepare for life in space, according to a NASA spokesman. In addition, there is ample evidence from ground-based observations and space missions that space is real and a vacuum. Continue reading.

Claim: Different appearance of launch sites on moon and earth proves that space is not real

Our rating: Wrong

Different gravitational forces, the lack of an atmosphere on the moon, the weight of cargo, different types of fuel, and the need for reusability on Earth are factors in why launch sites on Earth look different than those on the Moon. Continue reading.

Claim: Photos that appear to show clouds behind the sun suggest it is orbiting the earth, not millions of miles away

Our rating: Wrong

This is an optical illusion. The clouds only appear to be behind the sun when too much light penetrates through the cloud and hits the camera’s film or sensor, causing overexposure. Continue reading.

Claim: NASA admits that the earth is flat and does not rotate

Our rating: Wrong

NASA has consistently said that the Earth is a round, rotating globe, and the documents referenced in the post prove otherwise. The “flat, non-rotating Earth” model is a common technique used to generalize mathematical equations, experts said. Continue reading.

Claim: Moon visible during daytime proves Earth is flat

Our rating: Wrong

The Earth is not flat, it is spherical, as evidenced by photos taken from space and a number of observations and calculations that can be made from Earth. Planetary scientists say the daytime visibility of the Moon and Sun doesn’t prove a flat Earth — it’s actually evidence of the Sun, Moon, and Earth moving in space, along with the Earth’s rotation. Continue reading.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact Check Summary: Evidence the Earth is Round


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