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What If the Earth Really Was Flat?

VO: Noah Baum WRITTEN BY: Nathan Sharp
It's one of the most infamous (and ridiculous) theories out there, and every aspect of science says that it's completely false. But, what if a flat Earth wasn't just an outlandish concept, but an actual, scientific fact? What if the world really was flat? Would our daily lives change? Would evolution have played out differently? Would global travel be unrecognisable? In this video, we explore the impossible to ask; What if the Earth really was flat?

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What If the Earth Really Was Flat?

We’ve known that the Earth is round for thousand of years. By the 5th century BC, most Greek writers had accepted the idea. Plato taught it to his students, and his successor Aristotle confirmed it based on his observations of the stars. Around 240 BC, Greek astronomer Eratosthenes, chief librarian at the Library of Alexandria, even managed to calculate the Earth’s circumference with startling accuracy, as well as its axial tilt. But what if the Earth was actually flat instead?

Of course, the idea that the Earth is flat has adherents even today. The belief has spread thanks to the advent of social media, and celebrity advocates such as rapper B.o.B. and Tila Tequila. A common argument from Flat Earthers is that we should trust our senses. The Earth SEEMS flat, so we should discount testimonies to the contrary. Moreover, they argue, some ancillaries to a round Earth are counterintuitive: planes on a level course don’t fly off into space, and rivers don’t run UP.

In this video, we’re going to go out on a limb, and assume that scientific consensus about gravity, tectonic plates, our magnetic field, and the Sun is basically correct . . . and then imagine what the world would be liked if we swapped out a round Earth for a flat one!

First off, gravity would perpetually drag all of us, including B.o.B. and Tina Tequila, toward the center of the disc - identified by most Flat Earthers as the Arctic. The oceans, if such there were, would coalesce at the center of the planet, leaving Earth a gigantic Waterworld in the middle and a barren desert around the edges. While you’d feel a downward pull at the disc’s center, you’d feel a more sideways force elsewhere. The further out you were, the more difficult walking outward would become. Assuming there were still plants and trees, they’d all be crooked due to negative gravitropism, a fancy term for describing how stems grow in the opposite direction to gravity. Right off the bat, we can see that Earth would look - and feel - very, very different.

Earth’s tectonic plates, and the outlines of its continents, would also change drastically. On a flat Earth, plate boundaries would follow smooth, rounded paths at the edges of the disc, rather than matching up. Furthermore, plate movement at these outer edges wouldn’t cause reactions in their counterparts. Nor would the outlines of the continents match up, since the landmasses would never have been joined together, as in the ancient supercontinent Pangea. There goes all that fossil evidence for shared flora and fauna. And if we assume a flat Earth without tectonic plates at all, well, a lot of the planet’s geological features, such as mountain ranges, would also disappear. We could kiss the Rockies, the Alps, the Andes, and the Himalayas, goodbye. A flat Earth would be smoother, with unrecognizable continental borders.

A flat Earth would also be seasonless. Earth experiences seasons due to its curvature and axial tilt. When the Northern Hemisphere is tilted towards the sun, the sun’s rays hit that area of the planet at a more direct angle, resulting in summer. When the Northern Hemisphere is tilted away from the sun, the rays hit it at a less direct angle, resulting in winter. However, if the Earth were flat, the Sun’s rays would hit every area of the planet at the same angle, resulting in uniform temperatures and a consistent season. Australia and North America would be hit in the exact same manner, and both would experience the exact same temperatures. On the upside, what we Round Earthers call the “Poles” might also be warmer, and much more hospitable.

Speaking of the Sun, the Earth’s rotation would plunge the entire world into periods of total darkness. Or, if we were locked into synchronous rotation, always facing the Sun, well the Sun would just circle around in the sky, neither rising nor setting. We wouldn’t get to enjoy all that daylight though, because we’d all be fried alive. Earth’s magnetic field protects us from the sun’s solar wind, and it’s generated by a complex process involving electric currents in the planet’s core. Assuming a flat Earth doesn’t have a rotating core at its center, Earth wouldn’t have that protection.

Ask Mars how things went without a magnetic field. NASA’s MAVEN mission recently concluded that Mars once held abundant water, but at some point it lost its magnetic field. This allowed solarwinds to rip away its atmosphere. Without our magnetic field, the same thing would happen to us.

In sum, on a flat Earth, humans and forests alike would be dragged towards the center of the planet, where all our water would coalesce. Earth’s basic geography would look completely different. There wouldn’t be seasons, and every area of Earth would experience similar temperatures. And our atmosphere would be stripped away by solar winds, leaving the planet completely radiated.

But suppose that all our scientific theories about gravity, tectonic plates, the solar orbit, and our magnetic field, were false. Imagine that there was some alternative explanation for all these features, and that the current scientific consensus was really a smokescreen to convince us all, for some odd reason, that the world was round. It would be the most expansive, and most expensive, conspiracy theory to ever exist. It would mean that all the photos, videos, and scientific proofs of the Earth being round were fake - and everyone, experts, institutions, and governments, were all part of it. Astronauts must be actors, and teachers are either duped or part of the conspiracy. Even airlines must be in on the joke, fudging flight paths. Direct, 12 hour flights from Santiago to Australia must be fake; in fact, some Flat Earthers have suggested that Australia isn’t even real. Which to be honest . . . might be a head-scratcher if you live in Sydney.

Whether a flat Earth followed the same basic rules of physics, or an entirely new set, it would be a strange, and extremely dysfunctional world.

So we can thank our lucky stars that it’s extremely, extraordinarily improbable.

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