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Reality show idea: Make Flat-Earthers search for the world's edge

The contestants would try to reach the end of the world, as they understand it.

  • According to Flat-Earthers, our planet is flat and space travel doesn't happen.
  • People are calling for a reality show about Flat-Earthers.
  • Flat-Earthers say a 150-foot ice wall surrounds the world.

Amidst all the fake news, misinformation sponsored by governments, and the explosion of conspiracy theories that bombard us daily, it's no surprise that there seems to be a growing number of Flat-Earthers. After all, once you start doubting reality and the solidity of the institutions around you, being unsure whether the Earth is flat or round seems almost warranted. This said, there is a strong demand (at least online) for a reality show about Flat-Earthers searching for the edge of the world.

Ah. And what else could better signify our times?

Your basic flat earth belief kit often stems from biblical references, such as one, apparently, that mentions a giant tree that's supposedly visible from all corners of the Earth — at its "farthest bounds." If the planet was spherical this would not be possible while a flat Earth allows for such a scenario. Other beliefs that go along with this include claiming that gravity isn't real and that a Game of Thrones-like wall of ice surrounds the rim of the disc-like Earth. This wall is Antarctica while the Arctic Circle is the disc's center. If you went over the wall, you would fall into outer space or end up on an infinite plane. But, as the Flat Earth Society site admits, "To our knowledge, no one has been very far past the ice wall and returned to tell of their journey."

Notably, according to the Flat-Earthers, the 150-foot-tall wall is guarded by NASA. The agency's real mission is to keep the truth away from regular citizens while being an embezzlement front and faking space travel.

Although these beliefs are certainly not supported by the ample evidence to the contrary, provided by people who have experienced the planet's curvature from above — or those who have been to Antarctica — the number of Flat-Earthers is likely to grow. According to a 2018 survey, about a third of millennials are willing to entertain doubts about the Earth being round. Not all of these believe in the planet being flat, but it's easy to envision their ranks expanding, as such memes tend to acquire new converts by their sheer scope and intellectual frivolity. One clear catalyst for the resurgence of this idea has certainly been the Internet.

An animation of the day/night cycle according to Flat Earth Theory over the course of 24 hours.

Credit: Flat Earth Society.

The net, in its infinite wisdom, keeps a strong meme alive. So it is in this case, as the desire to watch a reality show about Flat-Earthers searching for the edge of the world keeps popping up on popular Reddit threads time and time again, causing tends of thousands of upvotes and comments. Of course, the impetus behind this show stems, for many, from the hope Flat-Earthers will fail spectacularly.

One such thread proposes that it would be "funny" to "give them access to a helicopter, boats, transportation, and flights to try and find the end of the world." And then, suggests user "Pilotavery," the contestants or "Flerfers" should be made to tell the organizers where they plan to go. The poster thinks this would dampen their enthusiasm, adding "I wonder how long it will take before they give up?" On the other hand, the poster thinks it would be "funny to see how frustrated they get."

We should fund a reality TV show, funding/following flat earthers in the search for the end of the earth. from r/flatearth

Another idea is to have a voting component to the show, with "the most trustworthy" Flat-Earthers being sent to the International Space Station to see the truth for themselves.

While it's certainly amusing, there is clearly a danger of such a show being set up to make the contestants look ridiculous, especially if you believe that they will not find the edge of the world. The upside for Flat-Earthers could be an opportunity to share their beliefs to millions via television, all the while trying to prove their theory right. Maybe they can make everyone else looks silly by actually finding a wall of ice at the end of the world. Wouldn't you want to watch that to find out?

In any case, no such show exists at the moment. But, Hollywood, if you're reading this, the internet wants what the internet wants. Make it happen.

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If you don't practice accountability at work you're letting the formula for success slip right through your hands.

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  • What is accountability? It's a tool for improving performance and, once its potential is thoroughly understood, it can be leveraged at scale in any team or organization.
  • In this lesson for leaders, managers, and individuals, Shideh Sedgh Bina, a founding partner of Insigniam and the editor-in-chief of IQ Insigniam Quarterly, explains why it is so crucial to success.
  • Learn to recognize the mindset of accountable versus unaccountable people, then use Shideh's guided exercise as a template for your next post-project accountability analysis—whether that project was a success or it fell short, it's equally important to do the reckoning.

What if Middle-earth was in Pakistan?

Iranian Tolkien scholar finds intriguing parallels between subcontinental geography and famous map of Middle-earth

Could this former river island in the Indus have inspired Tolkien to create Cair Andros, the ship-shaped island in the Anduin river?

Image: Mohammad Reza Kamali, reproduced with kind permission
Strange Maps
  • J.R.R. Tolkien himself hinted that his stories are set in a really ancient version of Europe.
  • But a fantasy realm can be inspired by a variety of places; and perhaps so is Tolkien's world.
  • These intriguing similarities with Asian topography show that it may be time to 'decolonise' Middle-earth.
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Giant whale sharks have teeth on their eyeballs

The ocean's largest shark relies on vision more than previously believed.

An eight-metre-long Whale shark swims with other fish at the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium on February 26, 2010 in Motobu, Okinawa, Japan.

Photo by Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • Japanese researchers discovered that the whale shark has "tiny teeth"—dermal denticles—protecting its eyes from abrasion.
  • They also found the shark is able to retract its eyeball into the eye socket.
  • Their research confirms that this giant fish relies on vision more than previously believed.
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A massive star has mysteriously vanished, confusing astronomers

A gigantic star makes off during an eight-year gap in observations.

Image source: ESO/L. Calçada
Surprising Science
  • The massive star in the Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy seems to have disappeared between 2011 and 2019.
  • It's likely that it erupted, but could it have collapsed into a black hole without a supernova?
  • Maybe it's still there, but much less luminous and/or covered by dust.

A "very massive star" in the Kinman Dwarf galaxy caught the attention of astronomers in the early years of the 2000s: It seemed to be reaching a late-ish chapter in its life story and offered a rare chance to observe the death of a large star in a region low in metallicity. However, by the time scientists had the chance to turn the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Paranal, Chile back around to it in 2019 — it's not a slow-turner, just an in-demand device — it was utterly gone without a trace. But how?

The two leading theories about what happened are that either it's still there, still erupting its way through its death throes, with less luminosity and perhaps obscured by dust, or it just up and collapsed into a black hole without going through a supernova stage. "If true, this would be the first direct detection of such a monster star ending its life in this manner," says Andrew Allan of Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, leader of the observation team whose study is published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

So, em...

Between astronomers' last look in 2011 and 2019 is a large enough interval of time for something to happen. Not that 2001 (when it was first observed) or 2019 have much meaning, since we're always watching the past out there and the Kinman Dwarf Galaxy is 75 million light years away. We often think of cosmic events as slow-moving phenomena because so often their follow-on effects are massive and unfold to us over time. But things happen just as fast big as small. The number of things that happened in the first 10 millionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang, for example, is insane.

In any event, the Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy, or PHL 293B, is far way, too far for astronomers to directly observe its stars. Their presence can be inferred from spectroscopic signatures — specifically, PHL 293B between 2001 and 2011 consistently featured strong signatures of hydrogen that indicated the presence of a massive "luminous blue variable" (LBV) star about 2.5 times more brilliant than our Sun. Astronomers suspect that some very large stars may spend their final years as LBVs.

Though LBVs are known to experience radical shifts in spectra and brightness, they reliably leave specific traces that help confirm their ongoing presence. In 2019 the hydrogen signatures, and such traces, were gone. Allan says, "It would be highly unusual for such a massive star to disappear without producing a bright supernova explosion."

The Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy, or PHL 293B, is one of the most metal-poor galaxies known. Explosive, massive, Wolf-Rayet stars are seldom seen in such environments — NASA refers to such stars as those that "live fast, die hard." Red supergiants are also rare to low Z environments. The now-missing star was looked to as a rare opportunity to observe a massive star's late stages in such an environment.

Celestial sleuthing

In August 2019, the team pointed the four eight-meter telescopes of ESO's ESPRESSO array simultaneously toward the LBV's former location: nothing. They also gave the VLT's X-shooter instrument a shot a few months later: also nothing.

Still pursuing the missing star, the scientists acquired access to older data for comparison to what they already felt they knew. "The ESO Science Archive Facility enabled us to find and use data of the same object obtained in 2002 and 2009," says Andrea Mehner, an ESO staff member who worked on the study. "The comparison of the 2002 high-resolution UVES spectra with our observations obtained in 2019 with ESO's newest high-resolution spectrograph ESPRESSO was especially revealing, from both an astronomical and an instrumentation point of view."

Examination of this data suggested that the LBV may have indeed been winding up to a grand final sometime after 2011.

Team member Jose Groh, also of Trinity College, says "We may have detected one of the most massive stars of the local Universe going gently into the night. Our discovery would not have been made without using the powerful ESO 8-meter telescopes, their unique instrumentation, and the prompt access to those capabilities following the recent agreement of Ireland to join ESO."

Combining the 2019 data with contemporaneous Hubble Space Telescope (HST) imagery leaves the authors of the reports with the sense that "the LBV was in an eruptive state at least between 2001 and 2011, which then ended, and may have been followed by a collapse into a massive BH without the production of an SN. This scenario is consistent with the available HST and ground-based photometry."

Or...

A star collapsing into a black hole without a supernova would be a rare event, and that argues against the idea. The paper also notes that we may simply have missed the star's supernova during the eight-year observation gap.

LBVs are known to be highly unstable, so the star dropping to a state of less luminosity or producing a dust cover would be much more in the realm of expected behavior.

Says the paper: "A combination of a slightly reduced luminosity and a thick dusty shell could result in the star being obscured. While the lack of variability between the 2009 and 2019 near-infrared continuum from our X-shooter spectra eliminates the possibility of formation of hot dust (⪆1500 K), mid-infrared observations are necessary to rule out a slowly expanding cooler dust shell."

The authors of the report are pretty confident the star experienced a dramatic eruption after 2011. Beyond that, though:

"Based on our observations and models, we suggest that PHL 293B hosted an LBV with an eruption that ended sometime after 2011. This could have been followed by
(1) a surviving star or
(2) a collapse of the LBV to a BH [black hole] without the production of a bright SN, but possibly with a weak transient."

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