On Saturday, Nov. 25, a California man is planning to launch himself into the sky in a homemade rocket, in a bid to prove the Earth is flat, an idea scientists have long since called “100 per cent garbage.”
“Mad” Mike Hughes, a 61-year-old California flat-Earther is aiming to capture photographic proof that the Earth is, indeed, flat. But first, he’s going to test the rocket he made from salvaged parts, in attempt to travel over a kilometre, at about 800 km/h, above a California ghost town.
The self-taught rocket scientist is not the only flat-Earther to make headlines as of late. Several celebrities have spoken out about their belief that the Earth is not round.
Rapper B.o.B. is crowdsourcing money to fund a project to send satellites into space to “find the curve.” Social media personality Tila Tequila, NBA star Kyrie Irving and retired basketball star Shaquille O’Neal are among a handful of celebrities who believe the globe is flat.
“The Earth is flat. Yeah, it is. Yes, it is. Listen, there are three ways to manipulate the mind: what you read, what you see and what you hear,” Shaq said during his podcast in March. “In school, first thing they teach us is, ‘Oh, Columbus discovered America,’ but when he got there, there were some fair-skinned people with the long hair smoking on the peace pipes. So, what does that tell you? Columbus didn’t discover America.”
The former NBA star later said he was “joking” about his flat Earth comments.
Humanity has known the Earth is round since Greek philosopher Aristotle argued that Earth was a sphere and Eratosthenes (276-195 BC) later accurately calculated the circumference of the planet.
In the 1800s, English writer Samuel Rowbotham published the book Zetetic Astronomy: Earth Not a Globe, which was based on his studies of the planet over a 10-year period. As the Flat Earth Society points out, Rowbotham’s Zetetic Astronomy method essentially says the Earth is “a flat disk centered at the North Pole and bounded along its southern edge by a wall of ice, with the sun, moon, planets, and stars only a few thousand miles above Earth.”
According to its website, the Flat Earth Society simply believes that “by relying on one’s own senses to discern the true nature of the world around us.”
“The world looks flat, the bottoms of clouds are flat, the movement of the sun,” the group says on its website. “These are all examples of your senses telling you that we do not live on a spherical heliocentric world.”
Still, in 2017, scientists are perplexed as to why these “theories” are even being discussed.
The Flat Earth Society dismisses photographic evidence and space travel as conspiracies to disproving its theories.
“The most commonly accepted explanation of this is that the space agencies of the world are involved in a conspiracy faking space travel and exploration,” the group states. “This likely began during the Cold War’s ‘Space Race,’ in which the U.S.S.R. and U.S.A. were obsessed with beating each other into space to the point that each faked their accomplishments in an attempt to keep pace with the other’s supposed achievements.”
Flat-Earthers can only trust what they see with their own eyes, Gaensler suggested.
“They seem unbothered by the fact that the same science that makes your phone, car or a plane work also describes the universe,” the scientist said.
Renowned American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson had the same sentiment earlier this year, placing blame on the “rise” of the flat-Earthers on the U.S. educational system.
“The rise of flat-Earthers in society provides some of the best evidence for the failure of our educational system,” Tyson tweeted in July.
A look at Google Trends over five years shows that flat Earth-related searches increased steadily from about March, 2015. Search results peaked around the same time B.o.B, Shaq and Irving made headlines about their flat Earth ideas.
Edmonton resident Robbie Davidson, organizer and founder of the Flat Earth International Conference (FEIC), said 2015 was a turning point for modern flat-Earthers.
Though Davidson couldn’t pinpoint what exactly happened in 2015 for it be a turning point for flat Earth believers, the FEIC founder said it has nothing to do with the rise of fake news.
“Flat-Earth belief applies to three types of individuals. You got one that is more conspiratorial, more skeptical of everything and maybe a bit of that fake news might play into it in the sense of being skeptical of mainstream media,” Davidson said. “Then you’ve got another group that is religious…and the third type, you have the true scientific. They’re neither conspiratorial or they’re religious, they truly want to apply the scientific method and prove the reality of our world.”
So, is there a way for putting the flat Earth debate to bed once and for all?
Davidson explained that a way to put this under wraps is for someone to “conclusively prove, scientifically the curvature of the Erath or the movement of the Earth.”
Davidson, who doesn’t affiliate himself with the Flat Earth Society, admitted that his life has been “turned upside down” since 2015 and just waiting for proof so he can go back to “life normal.” Until then, he’s calling on Tyson and other scientist to debate it.
“We’re saying ‘Hey, let’s come to the table, let’s debate,’” Davidson said. “And if you’re so sure science is settled, and we’re a bunch of idiots, it should be easy. The fact of the matter is, if they lose in a nine round fight, even in one round, it’s over.
“And I think they’re terrified of that because they’re going to lose more than just one round,” Davidson said.
As for Gaensler? The idea has already been put to rest.
“I think everyone … knows that this stuff is silly, and if you don’t think it’s silly then there is really nothing that I can say to change someone’s mind,” Gaensler said.
–with a file from Nicole Mortillaro