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The Shape of the Earth
Some proofs for the spherical ships of the
Earth given in Astronomical and
Geographical Te*t-books
examined, and shown
to be unsound

w
BY

ARTHUR V. WHITE

Rtprintad trvm *' The Univertity Monthly," March, 1909


Pttblithtd by the University of Toronto
Alumni Astociatiom

V I
^C^l
O^IU
\p*c^

I NsUonal Ubrary
ofCwwda
BibliolMqiw naUorato
duCarada


The Shape of the Earth
Some proofs for the spherlcil shape of the Earth
given in Astronomical and Geographical
Text-books examined, and shown
r
to be unsound.

»r

JR.THUR V. WHITE

Kepriiued from The University Montiilv, March,


1909
Published by the University of Toruniu
Ahimiii Association

>»J
('ot>rrl«bt. <'>na<1i. l»t. bj Arthur V. \Vi,il».

TH£ SHAPE OF THE EABTH

" hare known, too. for • long time, that we hare no bTKumentt for the Copernleaa
I

jretem, but I ehnll never dare to lie the flrat to attaok It Don't ruih into tba wanp'a
neat. You will but bring on younelf the «oom o( the thoughtleia roultituda. If onoa
a famouji a'ltronomer ariaee agalnH the preMint oonocptlon, I will communleata, too,
nir oberrratlonn, but to oome forth an the Ant airalnet opiolonii, which the world baa
become fond of I don't feel the coiirase."— .4 '^mndrr ron Humlxddt.*
,

standard text books upon Astronomy and Geography


Thi-
used our schools and eoll('g>-s. as well as the leading artieles
ill

relating to these subjeets in encycloptedius, have always given


practieally the same popular proofs for the spherical shape of
the Earth. These so-called proofs have been deduced from
such facts &% the circumnavigation of the Earth; 'the shadow'
on the Moon during its eclip.se; the mode of disappearance of a
vessel, or other object, receding at sea; the declination of the
North Star as observed by a person travelling southward, etc.
and have been so generally received as unquestionably reliable,
that one is startled upon first observing that their soundness is

being seriously (lueationed.


It is tnie, however, that the facts above mentioned do not
furnish data from wliieh valid proofs may he ratitmally deduced
for the support of the fundamental tenets of the Copemican
system of Astronomy; and that this is beginning to be recog-
nised, is evidenced by the following statement, taken from the
recent text book on Mathematical Geography, by Willis E. John-
sou. Pli.B., Vice-President, and Professor of Geography and
Social Sciences, of the Northern Normal and Industrial School,
at Al)Prdeen, South Dakota. In the second chapter of his book,
Profes.sor Johnson pointedly opens his remarks upon "The Form

•Augml Titchner, Tkt FLred Itien of Anlronomieal Theory. I^ipzljr, 1883, p. S3.
THE SHAPE OP THE EARTH '93

of th« Earth," with • atatement discounting


the so-called proof
of circumnavigation. He says:—
..*
"The .t»ti.m,ntt commonlj given
the earth would often apply .. w.ll

proofs of tht tplmieal form of
to • cylinder or an eKg-.h«p«i
or a
disk-shaped body, "i'eople have sailed
around it," "The shadow of the
earth as Men in the ecllpec of the
noou is always circular," etc.. do not
n themselves prove that the earth is
a sphere. They might be true if
the earth were a cylinder or had
the shape of an egg. "But men have
Miled around it in different directions."
80 might they a lemon shaped
body. To make a complete proof, we must show
that men have sailed
around it m practically every direction
and have found no appreciable dif-
Terence in the distances !n the different
directions."*

How great a departure from views formerly held such


a
statement involves, may be well observed by
a comparison of
some of the statements upon this subject, made by other
eminent
authorities. The article on "The Earth," in the New Edition
of Chamber's Encyclopaedia, informs us, that—

"The most convincing proof to the popular mind


is,however, that the
Earth has been circumnavigated by vessels steering
always in the same
general direction."'

The Professor of Astronomy at Princeton University, Dr. Charles


A. Young, whose revised work, General Astronomy,
is said
to be "without an equal in the English
language," in that work
ays,

"It is not necessary to dwell upon the ordinary


proofs of its globular-
Ity. We merely mention them. (1) It can be
circumnavigated.'"

The late Astronomer Eoyal of Great Britain, Sir


George B
Airy, P.R.S., F.R.A.S., sUtes-
"Again, people have sailed round the earth.
This was done for the
first time by Magellan and his successors
in command: The
earth, therefore, roughly speaking, is
something round, and there are limits

*Mathematieta Oeooraj^y, New York. 1907,


p. U. See also R. A. Gregory. The
Planet Earth, London. UM, pp. U-i.
•London. 1902. Vol IV. p. 182.
tOeneral Attrommy, Boston. 1904, p. 91.
* Popular Attrcnomy, London. U88. p. SI.
184
UNIVERSITY MONTHLY
Profe=«or of
Whil.. Sir J. Norman Lockyer. F.RS.. F.RA.H .

wr.t«H-
I!;ron.^i.-al PhynicH in th.
Uoy.U College of S......U..

...,.>„ th.. ..„..„.« on....


-^^;^^r::2 ^T^i^::^ 1
tpt out."*

M.. Lnte Prof.HMor of


Mathe-
And Prof.m.r II. N. R..binHon. A
tL U.S. Navy, in hin
r«a<»e o« A.irono.ny, -ayn-
tl-H In

Whi<h •.ttlc* till qUMtloB."*

but tl.o ("W.mg «ill mifflce


OlVr authoriti™ might b. >l»ol<!d,

? ^riS -on.™..'... -bl. .-i."»ny


ProtewT J..h.i»n; the comctnem of hi»
mi " « '""y
-;';*","r::" °b^
°«,

Zri NW. eird. m».v h. de^rW on .ny - «' » ."-^

Er:;;:rxu:crv:;'Ter^^^^^^^^
holds any really clear
concept.on of what
InnTn a hundred
ficems to be that
V r vlTt nrVct is Tho popular idea
eardinal points
TtTfJZZ woXrN.S.E.W.
vnne finial. ^^•ith its

S
fr^ltlv
frequently
edThe litters,
thought
I h to be diroet.on. one
Thus
way or the other^ on a
East and West are

direetion North and South.


ceneen,*
m'er'rt'. La^^t :™ airee.1on, on cire,e,

K.
.Element, of .Utranom,,. New
Yort, 1870. p.
Cincinnati. 18», P. »2-
6r,r«twe on Astra^my,
185
THE SHAPE OF THE EARTH

wiui 11"
tl„. n..rtl..r„ cnt™. .ml » .».h. it will be »»<«« '"^
•hnnfffH w th pvcry change in
„.itl, « •
1

abMe direction h.ul and ^^j^j^^^V^,


imnpomii^,yj ^e mort
. •
i

i>^n.
the lonifitiKle of a ReoRraphu
clea from n nunple exporimont repr-ntc. by F.Rure 11^
i
::^i;*:i:^::r":^rai..jNo.i; and south

Fio. 1.

pencil, direction Ea.t


and
in the magnetic meridian, and the you
table,
with the string around the
West n7w in walking and South, and
string is always North
will observe tbat your neverth^
^nr Son while constantly changing,
of motion,
»s^

returning to your ;ta^m« Pom^


On
ess wly E„«t or West. m
'circumnavigation' of the table
y2 will have completed a
course.
an easterly, or westerly , . •„ ..^
..T
Earth mi^ht actually be circumnavigated
eart.
.

m
Now the
spaces of land.
at all latitudes, if no
,riv or westerly directions, circumnavigation
the courses; and by such
or ke intervened on

i
186 UNIVERSITY MONTHLY

proved to be a globe, by
^j^P^^
the Earth might be .^^^^^^^^^^
at all ati
the circular courses, obtamed
in., that the lengths of globe
what they should be on a
Ses le r pectively equal to
of saihngs, at all
I
said to be. Such data i
the sizlthe Earth is
been obtained. However.
th« .s not he
atitudes has never used for a
of circumnavigation are
manner n which the facts around the
if 'men could sail
Tf Instead it is argued, that
appreciable
direction, and find no
"Th in poetically eTry
directions.' then such
"ffl^cert distance7in the different
that the shape of the
Earth is
in-ngs would demonstrate
globular.

Fio. 2.

at least sailed around the Earth


We do know that men have
What is the s.gmflcanc
in Iteriy or westerly, directions.

^^rth t
Does it mean that men have
tlTsT
f

By no means. They have simply sailed faround


---/^'^^^f " a
*!»«

with the table


illustration,
7rl This was done, in the above
floor. Bvvt let i. proceed to
Jd it was accomplished on a flat
of circumnavigation. F
rst, let us
review all the possibilities
circumnavigated an east- m
7Jel ca e in which the Earth h men.
direction, th.t is, at right angles to the
erl^. or westerly,
THE SHAPE OP THE EARTH
187

select a course
as a centre; and, to
diims and with the North,'
.hi.h the distance, o.
th^ ^gth may serve as a standard to be
will assume our course to
rth^co^L may be referred, we represents the magnetic north
Figure 2, N.
on the EaTtor. In needle tends to
towards which the magnetic
!!the iity marker's compasses,

! V W r D and E represent
Sw t various BtT^ons on L EarthV surface.
takes up a pos^on m
..ach
the
SSa- needle, automatically,
towards the magnetic north.
maJ^^c meridian, and points
at right angles to the long axis
ELTand West are of coui-se,
Xe needle Thk while East and West.
right angles to North
relaUvely, are al-
and South, >.t, as
vays in dtection at different geo-
and West ahsolutely are
poTntcd out above. East

Fio. 3.

graphic directions at places


having
f^^/^VTiih fcol^'
from A, with a compass,
Lrface of the Earth. If now we
start
pass
the same latitude, and
Td move eastward, keeping at to
and E, we eventually retu,^
through the Stations. B, C. D
Professor ^^^^^
h Parting place A; as P°-*^,«f,.^?^
cylmder, an
circumnavigation could also be performed on a
"disk-shaped body.
egg-shaped body," or a
188 UNIVERSITY MONTHLY

Again, lot us suppose circumnavigation of the Earth in other


courses, equal to the equatorial distance, and in directions com-
pounded of East and West with North and South. Such courses,
obviously, would be eccentric to the northern centre. Referring
to Figure 3, and assuming the non-intervention of land, or ice,
spaces, let us start our joi:m(!y from P, on, say, a north-easterly
course, constantly changing direction, and passing through the
Stations Q. R, S and T. We again return to P. In thi case, •

also, we have circumnavigated the Earth, but after all, we have


only travelled in a circle, and made such a circumnavigation as

Professor Johnson says, might also take place on "a lemon-


shaped body." It is, at least, clear, as may be seen from Figure
4, that such circumnavigation could take place on a flat jfturf ace,
providing its area is sufficiently great to admit the sailing upon
it of various circular courses, equal in length to the equatorial
distance, (on the globe), and eccentric to the northern centre.

^1 THE SHAPE OP THE EARTH 189

The only course now left for us to take is a circumnavigation


due North and South. If this could be accomplished, and a
course equal in distance to the equatorial circumference, or
even approximately so, could be traced from North to South,
and back to the North, then, indeed, would the Earth have been
circumnavigated in every direction; and this of itself would
be suflScient to prove it a globe. It is only necessary to state
that, owing to the impa-ssable ice barriers in the regions of the,
so-called. North and South Poles, such a course has never been
sailed.

Since, then, circumnavigation as thus far performed on the


Earth's surface, isa feat that might be performed, so far as
course is concerned, with equal facility, on other bodies not hav-
ing a spherical shape; and performed, indeed, even on a Ihit
surface, it must be clear that circumnavigation is no proof,
whatever, that the Earth has a spherical shape, the dogmatic —
statement of hundreds of astronomical, and geographical, auth-
orities to the contrary, notwithstanding.

'The Sh.vdow" on the Moon.

In the quotation from Professor Johnson's work, above given,


he points out that the statement, "The shadow of the Earth
as seen in the ecMpse of the moon is always circular," does not,
of itself, convey proof that the Earth is a sphere. He does not,
however, fully expose the fallacious nature of this proof, and
yet, no 'proof offered for the Earth's spherical figure, upon
examination in the light of logic and fact, vanishes as quickly
as does this shadow proof.
That this proof is among the most prominent given for the
Earth's globular shape may be seen, without multiplying in-
stances,from the statement of the eminent authority, the Pro-
fessor of Astronomy at Princeton University, Dr. Charles A.
Young. Says Professor Young,

'It is not necessary to dwell on the ordinary familiar proofs of the


earth's globularity. One, first quoted by Galileo as absolutely conclusive,
190 UNIVERSITY MONTHLY
it that the outline of the earth's shadow «ren upon the moon during a
lunar eclipse is such as only a sphere could cast."*

Now, some unwarranted assumptions are involved in this


proof; and some peculiar features, associated with the phen-
omenon of a lunar eclipse, and unfavourable to the shadow proof,
are not emphasised as they ought to be.

First. — The usual explanation given for an eclipse of the


Moon, viz., that the eclipse is produced by the shadow
of the Earth on the Moon, is itself
t. , .re assump-
tioii, iind has nevor been proved.
Second. — It is as.sumed that the Moon is only a reflector of
the Sun's rays; an assumption out of harmony with
certain observed lunar phenomena, and, as yet,
ineapable of proof.
Third. — It is not made clear that many other objects besides

a sphere, such as a diSc, a cylinder, or an oval shaped


body, might cast a circular shadow.

Fourth. An eclipse of the Moon is not, after all, a phen-
omenon as clear out in its detail, and capable of
ready a.ssociation with the Earth, as many suppose,
and it becomes necessary to appeal largely to the
imagination. Some of the general characteristics of
this phenomenon may be well understood from the
statement of the noted Copemican astronomer and
writer, the late Mr. Richard A. Proctor. He says
"Another proof of the plobnlar figure of the earth has been derived
from the shape of the earth's shadow as seen during a lunar eclipse. This
proof is not perhaps very striking, because the curvature of the earth's
shadow as seen on the moon is by no means so well marked as many sup-
pose. The shadow has not a well-defined edge, the circle it belongs to is
much larger than the moon, and finally the moon's surface ia marked
with so many variations of brilliancy as to confuse the border of the
nmbra."*

But, if it be granted that no peculiarities, such as are men-


tioned by Mr. Proctor, affect the proof, even then, however,

'Manual of Astronomy, Boston, 1904, p. 106.


*Knovledge, Vol. VI, p. 278.
r THE SHAPE OF THE EARTH 191

nothing could excuse the illogical manner in which assumption


is incorporated in it. The circular form of "the shadow" seen
during a lunar eclipse, is, by itself considered, of no importance,

whatever, as a proof of the Earth's globularity, because, if it


can be shown that it is the Earth that casts the shadow, then,
i
its globularity a foregone conclusion; and for this reason:
is

before the Earth, (viz. land and seas), can be conceived to cast
a shadow at all, it must be independently proved, that land and
seas together constitute a body, self-contained, and isolated, in
space. Such a body, possessed of the motions in space which

are attributed to the Earth, must, of necessity, be globular.


This fact is recognised by Copernicus and his followers, and
the globular form of the Earth is, therefore, assumed by Coper-
nicans as the very basic doctrine of their system. In the state-

ment, then, that the darkening of the Moon's face during an


eclipse is caused by a shadow cast upon it by the Earth, it is
implicitly assumed, that the Earth is so situated, in space, that
it is in a position to east a shadow, and,
as pointed out, such an

assumption involves the pre-assumption that the Earth is a

globe.

Let the elements vital to the shadow proof derived from the
phenomenon of a lunar eclipse first be demonstrated. Let the
Moon be proved a reflector, let the position of the Earth in space
be established, and let it be proved that it is the Earth that casts
the 'shadow.' If this is first done, we need not be required, as
at present, to lay aside all rules of logic, and give credence to a

proof, so-called, every essential proposition of which is an as-

sumption.
of practical astronomy can ever suffer from any test
No fact
applied to it. As we have said above, the spherical shape of the
Earth is the very basic feature of the Copemican System of
Astronomy, and, as such, shape should be established by the
this

most unquestionable proofs. Now two of the most important


proofs given for the Earth's spherical form have been seen to be
unsound. If our enquiry were extended further, it might be
found, that amongst all the proofs given in the text books, and
taught to our youth, as the veriest facts, none could be shown

192 UNIVERSITY MONTHLY

to be an absolute and valid proof of this most important fea-


ture of modern theoretical Astronomy, viz., the globular shape
of the Earth.
Is it too much to ask, that all these so-called proofs should
be submitted to the critical examination of the day. and, that
our teachers and text-books should be more guarded in what
they put forth as Knowledges and Truth? In the absence of
absolute proof for the spherical shape of the Earth, the hypothe-
tical charactrr of thin fundamental fcitnrc of the Copcrnican

System, ami, indfcd, the hupothttiral character of the tvhole


Copcrnican System of Astronomy, cannot be too strongly em-
phasised. That this is not an unreasonable demand upon the
teaching of the present day, is, we believe, supported by the
general stiiteinent of the Preface addressed To the Render, in
Copernicus' own book. The reader is there forewarned against
accepting the new Copcrnican hypothesis as truth; and the Pre-
face concludes with this remarkable pronouncement,

"Neither anyone, so far as hypothesi-n are concerned, expect any-


let
thinj; certainfrom aftronoiny, since that science can afford nothing of the
kind; lest, in case he shonld adopt for truth thinjjs feigned for another
purpose, he should le-ive this study more foolish than he came.""

Arthur V. vriiiTE.

>o"Nequa quisquam, quod ad hypothefoa attinet, quicquam certi ab astronomia


ezpectet, cum ipsa nihil tale prsestare queat, no, si In alium usum conflcta pro Terit
arripiat, tultior ab hac diaciplina discedat quam accesserit."
N. Copernicus, Dt Revolutionibwi Orbium Ccelestium. Libri VI (Editio Prinoeps),
Nuremberg, 1543, Prefaoe, De Hypothesibiu hujus Operia. The authorship of this
deface ii now generally attributed to Andreas Osiander to whom was entrusted the
publication of De Revolutionibua.