Debunked: Neil deGrasse Tyson : "That Stuff is Flat"

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member

Tyson vs baumgartner.jpg

Discussing Felix Baumgartner's Red Bull Stratos jump, Neil deGrasse Tyson pointed to a 20" inflatable globe and said:
The dude who jumped out of a perfectly good balloon, Felix Baumgartner, he would have been about 2mm above the surface of this globe. That's his "edge of space" jump [laughter]. I don't have a problem if he does it, the honesty of it would diminish what he was actually doing. and not only that they make sure to photograph him standing there with a really wide angle lens that curves horizontal lines. So in the photo you see this curvature of Earth's surface and you say "Wow, he's in space, look at that!". No he's not! At that height you don't see, you don't see the curvature of the earth if you're 2mm above this beach ball. You just don't. That stuff is flat!
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Tyson is wrong here, it's quite possible to see the curve from 45,000 feet


Baumgartner jumped from 127,852 feet, three times as high.

Tyson correctly notes that this is not the edge of space, and photos with fisheye lenses are misleading. Here's the type of photo (on the left):


However there were several cameras on board. Some of which were NOT fisheye
Metabunk 2019-05-15 13-45-07.jpg
[Edit: it's possible this a lens profile corrected version of the 15mm wide angle shot, see below]

You can see the curve there, even though there's quite a bit of haze. Its perhaps more visible if you add a straight edge and adjust the contrast.
Metabunk 2019-05-15 13-48-48.jpg

This alone proves DeGrasse Tyson wrong, but what's interesting about this curve being visible is IT ISN'T THE ACTUAL JUMP. This a test jump from 71580 feet, only a bit more than half-way up!

The actual mission used a smaller capsule, and there's not that many good photos released. None that are not wide angle distorted that I could fine, but we can work around that.

The cameras were in "pods", each containing a cluster of cameras.
Metabunk 2019-05-15 15-07-38.jpg
There's a smaller camera, presumably for streaming, then two large cameras identified as:
https://www.imaging-resource.com/ne...cameras-from-canons-to-reds-to-document-baumg
The video doesn't name the actual cameras used but from the clip we see what looks like a Canon 5D Mark II or Mark III with a Canon 15mm f/2.8 fisheye lens, along with a Red 4K camera with a rather basic Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM mounted on front.
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I have the Canon EF-S 10-22mm lens, it's a fairly rectilinear lens with just slight pincushion distortion, but the photo seems to be taken with the "Canon 5D Mark II or Mark III with a Canon 15mm f/2.8 fisheye lens". If I take the best photo I could find, and assume it's not cropped, then apply the default correction profile with no tweaks,

Metabunk 2019-05-15 15-01-15.jpg

we get:
Baumgartner real jump corrected.jpg

Which still shows a curve, and a bit more than in the test jump photo. As expected.
Metabunk 2019-05-15 14-58-18.jpg

But this particular photo shoot, fascinating and impressive though it might be, is a bit of a red herring. There's plenty of photos of the curve from much lower altitudes (like Wolfie's 46,000 foot shot, above). You can even, with care, do it from 500 to 1000 feet, because then the atmosphere has little effect. With an infrared camera you can see the horizon much more clearly, and see the curve from around 30,000 feet. (and more of it, as the camera is in landscape orientation)
Metabunk 2019-05-15 15-38-19.jpg
So why did Tyson say this? He was in the middle of making a point about how Baumgartner wasn't really that high, relative to the size of the globe. Perhaps he misspoke, or was simplifying to make a point - really meaning "you don't see MUCH curvature" and "that's stuff is nearly flat!" Or perhaps he was referring to the sense of curvature of the surface, not the horizon - we see in the fish eye photo the ground seeming to curve away.

A point missed here is that it's very obvious that he's not saying the Earth is flat - heck, he's actually pointing at a globe and saying that's the shape of the Earth.

But on the face of it his assertion that "you don't see the curvature of the earth" from 128,000 feet is just flat wrong.
 
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well, it's obvious what he was trying to say. When you look at it, even at the ISS, the curve is very wide, so to speak. Too bad they literally took that phrase and ran away with it, as usual.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
well, it's obvious what he was trying to say. When you look at it, even at the ISS, the curve is very wide, so to speak. Too bad they literally took that phrase and ran away with it, as usual.

Indeed, but that's what he's said. He's not immune to mistakes either. He once said K1 was higher than K2. A bit of residual DK, perhaps.

The problem is people keep asking me when I'm going to debunk Tyson. So I did. Not just to shut them up, but because it's an interesting way of focussing on the issue, and might get someone to think about it.
 

Rory

Senior Member.
He said K1 was the highest point on earth (joe rogan show)! He needs to start doing more crossword puzzles in his aging years.

K1 is the 22nd highest. They also both got the countries completely wrong. ;)

On the subject of Baumgartner's two jumps, I've seen these conflated and presented as evidence of hoaxery, such as in this photo:


Source: www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5JysrzeqXk

That's maybe the easiest way to tell the two apart: the location of the 'ZENITH' text in relation to the panel (test on left, actual on right).

If memory serves me correctly, there was also a difference in the camera booms.
 

Agent K

Senior Member
But on the face of it his assertion that "you don't see the curvature of the earth" from 128,000 feet is just flat wrong.

Hehe, flat wrong, I see what you did there.

His assertion was obvious comedic hyperbole that maybe went too far. From 120,000 feet, the curvature should be quite noticeable, even if it's less than people expect or fisheye photos represent.
 

Agent K

Senior Member
K1 is the 22nd highest. They also both got the countries completely wrong. ;)

On the subject of Baumgartner's two jumps, I've seen these conflated and presented as evidence of hoaxery, such as in this photo:


Source: www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5JysrzeqXk

That's maybe the easiest way to tell the two apart: the location of the 'ZENITH' text in relation to the panel (test on left, actual on right).

If memory serves me correctly, there was also a difference in the camera booms.

You can see the big difference in the cameras here. Why are they so big in the second one?


 

Rory

Senior Member.
Not so easy to tell those two apart: it's quite a good 'Spot the Difference' game.

Most immediate thing I see is the full jump has an American flag along the trim at the bottom of the pod.
 

Tumeni

New Member
A bit late to the party, but analysis of the footage shows that the extent of visibility from the capsule is entirely consistent with only being able to see a portion of the globe, a Spherical Cap.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spherical_cap

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipe...ss-page1-220px-Spherical_cap_diagram.tiff.png

Simple geometry gives us the size of it, based on the stated height of the capsule. Examination of landmarks and geographical features shows that all that can be seen are within the extent of the cap, and at the expected proportion of the distance to the perimeter; and anything unseen such as the nearest large expanses of water (Gulf of California, Gulf of Mexico) are outwith it.

706km.JPG
 
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