Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan (1480-1521) led the first expedition to circumnavigate the Earth (although he died on the journey). He said he knew the Earth was round because he had seen its shadow on the Moon, during a lunar eclipse. He added that although the Church said the Earth was flat, he would rather trust a shadow than the Church.
But in fact belief in a flat Earth had never been an essential part of the Christian faith, and the Church did not regard Columbus's attempt to get to Asia by sailing west as a challenge to its authority. The common misconception that until the age of exploration people – and the Catholic Church in particular – believed the Earth was flat has its roots in Washington Irving's The Life And Voyages Of Christopher Columbus, published in 1828. In fact, 1700 years before Magellan, Eratosthenes (276-195 BC) had produced a pretty accurate estimate of the circumference of the Earth, and by the time of Pliny the Elder (1st century AD), it was generally accepted that the Earth was a sphere. In the Middle Ages, theologians engaged in vigorous debate about whether the antipodes were inhabited, or even reachable, but any doubts about the Earth's spherical shape had long been laid to rest in the minds of most educated people. As our knowledge of the rest of the universe grew, so did it become increasingly hard to believe that the whole lot could rotate round the Earth every 24 hours.
Images from spacecraft have now provided us with pictorial proof that the Earth is round. And there are plenty of other indirect proofs that the Earth is a sphere. One is that we don't see any other plate planets. Another is that the Earths weather systems only make sense if the solid surface beneath them is a sphere. And exactly what is below if the Earth is flat? But in a spirit of openness, here is a website that will try to persuade you that the Earth is flat. It belongs to the Flat Earth Society. If it convinces you, stop reading this book right now, as everything in it is wrong.
- Planet Earth: What is a planet?
- External Forces Shaping the Earth
- Internal Forces Shaping the Earth
- The Earth Inside and Out
- Major Relief Features of the Earth’s Surface
- Minerals and Rocks of the Earth’s Crust
- CERES—Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System
- The Earth’s Revolution around the Sun
- Earth Rotation