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The statements commonly given as proofs of the spherical form of the earth would often apply as well to a cylinder or an egg-shaped or a disk-shaped body. “People have sailed around it,” “The shadow of the earth as seen in the eclipse of the moon is always circular,” etc., do not in themselves prove that the earth is a sphere. They might be true if the earth were a cylinder or had the shape of an egg. “But men have sailed around it in different directions.” So might they a lemon-shaped body.

The shadow of the earth as seen in the lunar eclipse is always circular. But a dollar, a lemon, an egg, or a cylinder may be so placed as always to cast a circular shadow. When in addition to this statement it is shown that the earth presents many different sides toward the sun during different eclipses of the moon and the shadow is always circular, we have a proof positive, for nothing but a sphere casts a circular shadow when in many different positions.

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Featured Case Study

Oblateness

In the year 1672 John Richer, the astronomer to the Royal Academy of Sciences of Paris, was sent by Louis XIV to the island of Cayenne to make certain astronomical observations. His Parisian clock had its pendulum, slightly over 39 inches long, regulated to beat seconds. Shortly after his arrival at Cayenne, he noticed that the clock was losing time, about two and a half minutes a day. Gravity, evidently, did not act with so much force near the equator as it did at Paris. The astronomer found it necessary to shorten the pendulum nearly a quarter of an inch to get it to swing fast enough.

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Recent Journal Entries

Dimensions of the Spheroid

It is of very great importance in many ways that astronomers and surveyors know as exactly as possible the dimensions of the spheroid. Many men have made estimates based upon astronomical facts, pendulum experiments and careful surveys, as to the equatorial and polar diameters of the earth. Perhaps the most widely used is the one made by A. R. Clarke, for many years at the head of the English Ordnance Survey, known as the Clarke Spheroid of 1866.

It is upon this spheroid of reference that all of the work of the United States Geological Survey and of the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey is based, and upon which most of the dimensions given in this book are determined. In 1878 Mr. Clarke made a recalculation, based upon additional information, and gave the following dimensions, though it THE FORM OF THE EARTH 30 is doubtful whether these approximations are any more nearly correct than those of 1866.

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