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Readers respond: If the Earth was flat, how would our lives be different? | Life and style

If the Earth were flat, how would our lives be different?
Paul tinkler

Send new questions to nq@theguardian.com.

Readers respond

What do you mean: “If …”? Chriskiy

Terry Pratchett would have been the winner of a Nobel Prize in physics. Alan Williams-Key, Sudbury

In all of the Guardian’s commentary history, has the invitation in that little box here to “Join the Talk” ever been so delightfully appropriate? There is no owl

We would have a bunch of conspiracy theorists trying to convince people of a globular Earth. master_ lexicon

Sure enough, the rotational forces required to shape / flatten material into a disc rather than an ovoid are so extreme that they inevitably tear the disc before it can fully stabilize. So… the Earth wouldn’t be here if it were flat. Thomas1178

There wouldn’t be much left on a flat Earth after the cats took everything away. Bokalok

If the Earth were flat, mountaineering would be much safer. Jerry144

There could be no plate tectonics, so no mountain ranges. All of the land would eventually be eroded and you would end up with a shallow sea covering the entire disk. Roger musson

The most obvious differences would be:

  • Gravity would work very differently. Assuming uniform density, it would not just pull “down”, it would pull much harder towards the center of the flat structure. If you tried to move towards the edge, you would be pulled towards the middle again. (Unless, of course, the flat disc spins at such a speed that centripetal acceleration cancels the effect.)

  • There would be no time zones, for the sun would rise and set at the same time across the face of the world.

  • There would be no difference in climate between the “poles” and “the equator”.

  • Coriolis forces would work differently, so weather systems in the “southern” “hemisphere” would not turn in the opposite direction.

  • There would be no horizon as such; if you could climb high enough to see over the hills (or waves) in between, you could see clearly to the ends of the earth.

  • Earth is unlikely to have a magnetic field. Our magnetic field depends on a combination of the Earth’s rotation and the existence of a liquid core that conducts electricity. This would mean that we would all be dead from solar or cosmic radiation. Shasarak

Can a flat earth exist? No. The planets are round because their gravitational field acts as if it comes from the center of the body and draws everything towards it. With its large body and the internal heating of radioactive elements, a planet behaves like a fluid and, over long periods of time, succumbs to the gravitational pull of its center of gravity. The only way to get all of the mass as close to the center of gravity of a planet as possible is to form a sphere. The technical name of this process is “isostatic adjustment”.

With much smaller bodies, such as the 20 km asteroids we have seen in recent images of spacecraft, the gravitational pull is too weak to overcome the mechanical force of the asteroid. As a result, these bodies do not form spheres. On the contrary, they retain irregular and fragmentary shapes.

Gravity, inevitably, will crush a non-spherical object into a spherical object assuming it has enough mass and weight. An object with the mass of the Earth that is flat would inevitably shatter into fragments due to the Sun’s gravity, then accretion into an object and pull itself into a spherical object. Only in a universe where there is no gravity could a flat Earth exist. But no gravity means that neither matter nor energy can exist. So, no life, no planets, no stars. Nothing. We are stuck with spherical worlds no matter what. Tiberius123

If the Earth was flat but there were still three spatial dimensions, then it is likely that this discussion would take place between bacteria living on the side of a piece of wombat dung (which is famous cuboid). While it may seem unlikely, it offers a better explanation of how the UK ended up with Boris Johnson as Prime Minister than any other I have met. BlueThird

Christopher Columbus would never have returned. Neither does Leif Erikson. MyOtherName is Real

It would have to rest on the backs of four elephants who themselves stand on the backs of a giant tortoise… and Sir Terry Pratchett would still be alive. Skydancer1

Brexit would have been a great idea in the end. Styggron

Suppose gravity, magnetism, daylight, etc. are all unchanged (maybe this flat Earth was rigged by aliens who like to watch us frolic in our park). So, perhaps, for many people, especially those close to the center, life would be fundamentally unchanged.

The only huge difference that cannot be ignored is the edge. Whether it was a cliff edge, a wall, or an invisible force field, it would have profound effects on society. Maybe religion would intervene to prevent people from approaching it. Maybe we would throw criminals or our garbage in there. Maybe the explorers would try to make it bigger. paulreilly

If the Earth were flat, we would find that we cannot explain everything we see in the sky, especially the sun, moon, and planets. We should accept that these are only “lights”, which are mysteriously unknowable to us. We would be happy in this ignorance, for that is clearly what God wants.

Until we take out the telescopes, of course, and have a really good look. We would then see that the moon is obviously a globe, as are Jupiter, Mars, Saturn and Venus. We would see that Jupiter has its own moons, luckily in orbit. We would notice the sunspots and would see how they move across the surface of the sun, showing that it is also a rotating globe. Sorry, my God.

Very soon intelligent clogs will discover how the same force that knocks apples from trees also causes planets to move; shortly thereafter, someone else would discover that all objects over a certain size tend to take on the shape of a globe because of this force.

After that, it’s only a matter of time before someone realizes that an object the size of Earth can only have one shape – and that it’s not flat.

I could be wrong, of course. It may be that some intelligent hooves much earlier experience the length of shadows cast by sticks at midday and notice that they are longer if you travel further north; someone so intelligent might be able to understand the shape of the earth long before telescopes.

To sum up: it can only be a flat earth until you start to think about it. QueBlokeBruce

The Rise of the Flat Earth: Meet the People Who Set aside 2,500 Years of Science - vidéo
The Rise of the Flat Earth: Meet the People Who Set aside 2,500 Years of Science – vidéo

Our measurements of the movements of the planets, and our observations of how sunlight hits them, prove that the sun is the center of the solar system. So if the Earth were flat and not spinning, it would either always have sunlight on top or below, in which case the part we live on would either be totally frozen or too hot for the water to be liquid, or it would rotate on a horizontal axis, in which case we would have days and nights but all the water would slide off sides away from the axis due to Coriolis forces. So we would never have evolved. It is highly, highly unlikely that a life has begun. And this is only the beginning of the problems. EdgarCharpenter

Many of these answers approach the question from a physical point of view. I took pleasure in thinking about it from a more mathematical point of view: how to make correspond points on the surface of a sphere in 3D to points of a plane?

One way could be to map the points on a plane ring (this is the region defined in 2D space by two concentric circles). I think it might work, although it gives very weird results for large circles. If you walked through the world of annulus from due west, it could take 1,000 times longer than if you were heading due north. Al cramer

One should be wondering what a flat earthling would do with the M25 orbital, as the road seems to go in a straight line when driven on it and yet after several roadblocks and long queues you reach the same point starting point. If we get some sort of sane answer, which I doubt we will, then we can try to extrapolate it to the third dimension. Wishful thinking, I know. cycling_en

If the world were flat, we would be perfectly out of touch with billionaire space tourists for half the time they circled the planet. Richard simmons

If the Earth was flat, we wouldn’t have to cycle up a hill. I have already thought about it too much. Dae Pandy, Wales

Signs such as “The end is near”, “The dead end ahead” and “The end of the line” would seem more disturbing. Richard Orlando, Quebec

We would have to deal with the unbearable sufficiency of the flat Earthlings being right … David smith

Readers respond: If the Earth was flat, how would our lives be different? | Life and style

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