We have been told in school that it was Christopher Columbus the person who found out that the Earth is a sphere and set out on a journey to prove it.

It is just one of the many “little” lies that have been told in history classes today.

But Christopher Columbus did not discover the Earth was spherical. Actually, Columbus was about 2,000 years too late and he greatly underestimated the Earth’s circumference.

So who discovered or proved the Earth is a sphere?

Pythagoras was one of the originators of the idea, Aristotle provided physical evidence and Eratosthenes determined that the Earth was in fact, round. Eratosthenes (276-194 B.C.) the father of “Geography,” made the discovery around seventeen hundred years before Columbus.

He speculated that the Earth was shaped like a ball based on the stories and myths of Greek sailors before proving his assumption.

Eratosthenes, a Greek mathematician, geographer, poet, astronomer, and music theorist, is best known for being the first ever person on Earth who calculated the circumference of the Earth, and he did so by never leaving Egypt.

He was able to calculate the circumference of our planet by applying a measuring system using stadia (A Stadion or stade, was an ancient Greek unit of length equal to a typical sports stadium at that time).

Even though Eratosthenes’ discoveries are numerous, among the most important ones is his calculation of the tilt of the Earth’s axis but it is believed that he also was able to calculate the distance from the Earth to the Sun, thousands of years before “mainstream science.”

Eratosthenes was also the person who created the first map of the world incorporating parallels and meridians with the available geographical knowledge of the era.

Mappa_di_Eratostene
19th-century reconstruction of Eratosthenes’ map of the known world, c. 194 BC
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Hew was also the first to use a system of latitude and longitude in Geography.

Eratosthenes managed to measure the distance between ancient Alexandria and Syene and concluded that they were separated by five hundred miles. He based his calculations on the average speed of Camel caravans that traveled the distance.

He continued his observations and noted that at noon, on the summer solstice which s the longest day of the year, there were no shadows being cast in a well in the city of Syene in Egypt.

The Sun was directly overhead at that time so he assumed that the Sun was so far off that the Rays of our Star were approaching Earth in parallel.

Furthermore, because the Sunset at the same time when it was directly between the cities of Alexandria and Syene, he concluded that the city of Syene to be on the same meridian as the city of Alexandria.

On the summer solstice, exactly at noon, in ancient Alexandria, Eratosthenes was able to measure the angle of the sun’s rays concluding they were 7.2 degrees angle with a tall rod.

His measurements, calculations, and assumptions were more accurate with every new study. Eratosthenes knew that in his hometown Alexandria, based on calculations, the angle of elevation of the sun was 1/50th……..
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