Fact check: Earth's curvature first photographed in 1930s, contrary to post
Corrections & Clarifications: This story was updated March 29 to note the first picture showing the curvature of the Earth was captured in 1930. This update does not affect the rating for this item.
The claim: The first photo of Earth's curvature was taken on April Fools' Day, 1960
A March 9 Facebook post (direct link, archive link) features an image of the Earth taken from outer space.
“The first ‘photo’ of the curvature was published on April Fools Day,” reads the text in the image.
The post garnered more than 60 shares in less than three weeks. Other versions of the claim have been shared on Facebook and Twitter.
Some social media users interpreted the photos as evidence the Earth is flat.
“They didn’t even make a proper curve.. kinda distorted at the bottom,” wrote one Twitter user.
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Our rating: False
While the image in the post is dated correctly, it is not the first image of the Earth's curvature. The first such photo was taken more than two decades earlier in the 1930s.
Image used in post not the first photo of Earth from outer space
The picture used in the posts was indeed taken on April 1, 1960, by the TIROS-1 satellite and was the first photo of the Earth taken from a weather satellite, according to NASA.
However, this was not the first image to capture the Earth’s curvature, as the post claims.
The first photograph that demonstrates the Earth’s curvature was taken on Dec. 30, 1930, by U.S. Army Capt. Albert Stevens while he was flying at an altitude of 21,000 feet.
Five years later, Stevens took another image documenting the Earth’s curvature from a high-altitude balloon while aboard the Explorer II. The image also captured the division between two upper levels of Earth’s atmosphere, the troposphere and stratosphere, according to NASA.
The first image of the Earth from outer space was taken in 1946 when American scientists and researchers launched a V-2 missile carrying a 35-millimeter motion picture camera into space. The camera took photos at an altitude of 65 miles.
The following year, NASA scientists were able to capture an image of the Earth at an even higher altitude.
Researchers have since been able to capture a plethora of other images documenting the Earth’s shape.
Fact check roundup: Debunking the flawed science behind flat earth claims
Humans first theorized the Earth may be spherical in ancient Greece thousands of years ago, according to the American Physical Society. Since then, modern scientists have discovered ample evidence confirming the Earth is round.
For example, if the Earth was a level plane, Polaris – also known as the North Star – would always be visible in the night sky, physicist Jason Steffen previously told USA TODAY. But that’s not the case, as people in the Southern Hemisphere cannot see the star at all, Steffen said.
Scientists also need to take the Earth’s curvature into account when conducting certain experiments.
The social media users who shared the post did not provide any evidence to back up their claims.
Our fact-check sources:
USA TODAY, Dec. 7, 2022, Fact check roundup: Debunking the flawed science behind flat Earth claims
USA TODAY, Dec. 7, 2022, Fact check: Laser beam tests done over water are skewed by refraction, don't prove Earth is flat
USA TODAY, Nov. 17, 2022, Fact check: Ample evidence the Earth is round and rotating, contrary to persistent social media claims
American Physical Society, June 2006, This Month in Physics History
Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, accessed March 23, Ultra-High Vacuum
Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, accessed March 23, Home page
NASA, April 2, 2009, First Photo of Earth From a Weather Satellite, TIROS-1
NASA, Dec. 21, 2020, 90 Years of Our Changing Views of Earth
NASA, July 24, 2021, The Edge of Space
NASA, March 6, 2009, First Pictures of Earth From 100 Miles in Space, 1947
NASA, accessed March 23, Earth Images
National Air and Space Museum, accessed March 23, Cabin, "EXPLORER II"
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Dec. 29, 2020, 50 Satellite Images from 50 Years of NOAA
Space Center Houston, Oct. 24, 2019, Prior to 1946, people had never seen the Earth from outer space. On this day, 73 years ago, that would all change.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Earth's curvature first photographed in 1930s