A recent trip from my home in Pennsylvania to Florida, once again reminded me of a most wonderful fact: The Earth is round.

This of course is one of those truths that should be beyond any question. I don’t know anyone personally who honestly believes the Earth is flat, but then again, I don’t ask everyone I meet. In fact, I am sure I never asked anyone, but just presumed they agree the world is round! 

People groups that never or rarely strayed beyond their valley, as in many ancient cultures and in some pockets today, might be excused for thinking the world is flat as a pancake. Being absorbed in day to day survival, one might not notice signs of the greater world. Yet, they are ever present, and it is an interesting exercise to witness for yourself the sphere on which we live. 

There were scholars and scientists of the ancient world who became well aware of the Earth’s roundness. One of them was a Greek of the third century B.C., Eratosthenes of Cyrene.

From Wayne County, PA, I am accustomed to seeing the North Star not quite half way up the northern sky; it is just about 42 degrees from the flat horizon (although my hilly horizon is far from it). Around a point next to the North Star, the entire sky revolves, which is a picture of our spinning Earth. Once every 24-hour day the constellations go by from east to west. A certain few in the north keep missing my horizon and never set. 

The Big Dipper, which is part of the Big Bear constellation, never sets as seen from home.

Once I was in the land of palm trees and alligators, however, I once again was thrilled to see that the North Star was much lower- it was in fact only 26 degrees above the horizon!

The Big Dipper was also unusually low. In fact, it disappears from sight as seen from Florida when it passes below the North Star.

That also made all the other sky rise and set at odd perspective from what I am used to! Orion, for instance, was tilted more in the southwest than I come to expect.

Even more thrilling to me is that the shift in the sky, again due to the round Earth, means a whole new area of stars became visible in the south, which I can never see up north in Pennsylvania! I brought a star atlas to help me learn more of the far southern constellations, which are best seen if you were to travel much farther south.

Below Orion’s stars and the brilliant star Sirius at lower left, was another marvelous, bright star I never see from home: Canopus. Brighter than magnitude 0, and gleaming white, the star is 310 light years away. On the sky it is 21 degrees below Sirius, in the constellation Carina. Canopus is the second brightest star in the night sky, after Sirius.

The Moon also give you plenty of evidence that Earth shares its shape! If you were to go below the equator, you’d see that the dark spots making up the “Man in the Moon” are turned upside down! At times of a lunar eclipse, you will also note the round shadow of the Earth, crossing the Moon’s face.

It was also interesting on the flight south, to see the effects of the Sun rising from the plane window. The plane’s wings were fully lit in sunshine, while the ground, about 30,000 feet below, was still in twilight! Once again, the Earth is round. For the same reason, before sunrise or after sunset, you can see jets (as well as clouds) high up, gleaming in the reddened rays of the Sun.

No matter where you live or visit on Earth, the sky above awaits your discovery. You may even witness some science about the most beloved planet from our perspective, the one on which we ride!

P.S. So now we know the Earth is round. Imagine those people on the opposite side, who to us would seem to be standing upside down!

First quarter Moon is on April 3rd.

Keep looking up!

— Peter Becker is Managing Editor at The News Eagle in Hawley, PA. Notes are welcome at news@neagle.com. Please mention in what newspaper or web site you read this column.