The Flat Earth

One of the most bizarre conspiracy theories has to be that of the Flat Earth. There is even a society with hundreds of members who gather at conventions to discuss the “evidence” that NASA and other agencies, with malicious intentions or out of ignorance, maintain the idea that our planet is a sphere orbiting the Sun. In their vision the Northpole is the center of everything and the Southpole is a wall of ice around the world that prevents us from falling into the void.

But the mere fact that it is not day or night everywhere at the same time suggests that the Earth is not flat. When the sun is shining in Europe, it should be visible from New Zealand as well, on a flat Earth. Even if the sun were a kind of spotlight that illuminates only a part of the world, you should still see some stray light in the night part.

The Flat Earth table: a wooden dining table with a print of the world map, shown here with a cup of coffee
Coffee on a flat Earth

Gravity on a flat Earth

Gravity actually makes the existence of a flat Earth impossible. If the Earth were really a flat disk, our world would instantly transform into a sphere; gravity makes all celestial bodies above a certain mass take a spherical shape. And should the flat disc be mysteriously stable, there is a practical problem: the further from the center, the more obliquely gravity works. At the edges of the disc, the flat surface feels like a steep slope up.

Flat-Earthers try to talk their way out of this by stating that the Earth is moving upwards at an acceleration of 9.8 m / s² and that it is that motion which causes gravity. I’m not making this up. And the fact that we haven’t accelereted beyond light speed yet has, according to the believers, to do with Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity: we are getting closer to the speed of light but we never quite reach it. Isn’t it amazing that even the conspiracy theorists apparently have a deep respect for Newton and Einstein?

No, an alternative explanation seems more plausible to me: a flat surface that is infinite in all directions. As a child I already liked that idea: imagine that beyond America is not Asia but a completely new continent. And one more beyond that. And another one.

World map of a tiny section of a hypothetical Flat Earth, with the known oceans and continents in the center surrounded by various other land masses and bodies of water
The infinite flat Earth


I developed that idea into the above alternative world map. Or, well, to a map of a tiny portion of that hypothetical, endless Flat Earth. An area of about 100,000 kilometers square. With the seven continents as we know them in the middle, surrounded by a capricious network of entirely unknown continents, islands and archipelagos. All of them with jungles and deserts, savannas and tundras, mountain ranges and polar caps. With lakes and inland seas. And with peninsulas, isthmuses and places that ask for a Panama Canal.

Detail of a world map of a hypothetical Flat Earth, with South America, Antarctica and various continents to the west and south
South America and various continents to the west and south


How different would the era of great discoveries have been on that endless Earth. Tasman, Cook and their colleagues would probably first have explored the world east-west, sailing on the trade winds. Later, Amundsen and Scott, navigating between the icebergs, would have discovered that it was slowly getting warmer on the other side of the north and south poles until they reached another equator.

In modern times, planes take you across a few continents quickly and comfortably. This offers unprecedented opportunities for adventurous holidays. If you travel far enough, you can boldly go where no one has gone before. I just can’t guarantee that there is good WiFi everywhere.

Detail of a world map of a hypothetical Flat Earth, with Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia and various continents to the east and south
Australia and some continents to the east and south


The further you travel on such a flat Earth, the more exotic the plants and animals you will encounter. Australia, America and even a large island like Madagascar originally had their own flora and fauna. And although the map shows some land bridges and narrow straits, many continents are so isolated that the plant and animal kingdoms have evolved completely independently. And that even on this small square of only 10 billion square kilometers; the wonders that can be found even further away defy the imagination.

Detail of a world map of a hypothetical Flat Earth, with North America and various continents to the west and north
North America and friends


Of course, this concept of the endless flat Earth also raises questions. For example, what is the explanation for the horizontal distribution of climate zones? Are there heating pipes under the equators or are there cooling elements in the polar regions? What about plate tectonics and the drift of the continents? And how exactly do we explain the rising and setting of the Sun? The latter is a tricky point in any flat earth theory, as we saw earlier in this blog post.

Anyway, you shouldn’t destroy a good story with reasoning. In that respect, this map of the Flat Earth can be compared to my Inverted World Map: don’t ask how it’s possible, just stand amazed…

Detail of a world map of a hypothetical Flat Earth, with Europe, Asia and a large continent to the north
Europe, Asia and New Spitsbergen

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