Archive for the ‘History’ Category

PostHeaderIcon The Earth is Round

…and it has been for a LONG time. At least, since the late 1000BCE. There’s been a weird misconception that in the time around 5th to 15th century, we all thought our Earth was flat. Then Columbus struck out on his boat and upon returning changed it all.

Truth is, many different scholarly Greeks had discovered, proved, calculated, however you want to call it, that our Earth was indeed a big blue ball. In fact, once this development sprouted out of Ancient Greece in the centuries before the Roman Empire even got off the ground, the ideals of a spherical Earth pervaded through Europe clear into modern day. The idea of a flat Earth between educated peoples in the days of Columbus was next to none.

But how on Earth did we figure out the Earth was round way back before satellites and computers? Well, one man named Ἐρατοσθένης (Eratosthenes) was able to get the answer using simple math that another Greek, Πυθαγόρας (Pythagoras), developed. If you remember your right-angle triangles you might already know where this is headed.

Sunlight for Eratosthenes

Sunlight for Eratosthenes

In his publication of “Περὶ τῆς ἀναμετρήσεως τῆς γῆς” (On the Measurement of the Earth) he explained the details of his method. Eratosthenes read that on the summer solstice at noon in the city of Syene, rays from the Sun would reach the bottom of the deepest well. In other words, the Sun would be directly overhead. He knew that on the same day in Alexandria, the sun was not directly overhead. Since he assumed that Alexandria was basically due north of Syene, he figured that the arc distance between the two locations was roughly 1/50 of a full circle (7°12′) north of the zenith at the same time.

How Eratosthenes figured out the distance from Alexandria to Syene is a somewhat unsettled. Some say he hired someone to measure the distance, others says that he estimated the distance from the average time required for a caravan of camels to travel the distance, and another that he walked the distance himself. However it was measured, the distance was determined to be about 5,000 stadia.

With all this, he foudn his final value of 700 stadia per degree, which would multiply out to a circumference of 252,000 stadia. There were at least two different units in common use at the time, equivalent to 157.5 m and about 185 m. That put Eratosthenes’s value between 39,690 km and 46,620 km. The circumference of the Earth around the poles is now measured to be around 40,008 km. If you average ou, this puts Eratosthene’s answer within roughly 7.8%! All with shadows and simple math.

This method, while hindered by low precision data, was very accurate and was accepted for hundreds of years afterwards. Even other astronomers/geographers used his method and other methods in its likeness to further maintain the accuracy of the Earth’s circumference.

PostHeaderIcon Wading in the Waters

Yuri Gagarin

Yuri Gagarin


On 12 April 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first man to travel into space, launching to orbit aboard the Vostok.

Moving past all the political hate, the Soviet Union hiding all sorts of numerous facts and news from the public and the American’s fear and nerves as they scrambled to catch up to Russian tech and intelligence, there was a man who was ready to face the dragons of what traveling into space would be.

As the earlier European and Asiatic sailors began navigating their boats straight into the seemingly infinite ocean horizon, they had a wealth of things to cause them fear, make them wary of the trek. Hurricanes, serpents, unexpected banks without lighthouses, loss of food and clean water, and gods against them, yet there were countless sailors striking out. While many did not return, many did.

But then many years later we turned our boats to the cosmic ocean. Regardless of nationality, we humans, our brothers and sisters, struck out into space. Leading the way was Yuri.

So while we come around on the 50th golden anniversary of humans entering space, what have we achieved? Well, we’ve stepped foot on the moon. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but when did we achieve that? July 21, 1969, eight years later. Eight years was all it took from worrying about Gagarin loosing his mind to the unknowns of weightlessness and outer space, to taking a human all the way to the moon, jumping out, and hopping around on it.

It takes 29 years more before we launch our International Space Station in 1998. A semi-permanent residency in low Earth orbit. We’re now in 2011 and 13 years later, with the words from a certain president saying no more manned space missions, and a shuttle program that is being retired with no real ready replacement.

“Before this first flight there were reasonable suspicions that human beings weren’t made for this environment,” James Oberg, a NASA veteran, said. “And once Gagarin answered that question, I think every other discovery on every other manned spaceflight was just details. He answered the most challenging, the most awesome question by his performance.”

Gagarin had the courage to face the unknowns of space and defeated those dragons so that we would be able to sail further than we ever had before, into space.

We have crossed rivers; we have crossed oceans. We have crossed the cosmic river separating us from our moon, but we can go further. We must keep pushing the limit. We cannot shy away from the achievements waiting for us just past the moon.

To read more about Yuri Gagrin from AP and Wikipedia.

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