By David Willberg, Estevan Mercury
People talk about how flat Highway 33 is from Stoughton to Regina, but for a Vancouver-based champion of science, it proved to be the perfect way to prove the Earth is round.
Kurtis Baute set out to prove the world is round, and to measure the circumference of the Earth, by using his bicycle and two sundials. He received assistance from the Saskatchewan Science Centre. One sundial was positioned at the science centre, and Baute rode his bicycle from Regina to Stoughton with the other sundial to Stoughton.
The flat, straight design of the road made it a perfect road for his test. The sundials in Regina and Stoughton were perfectly level and in a straight line, aligned with the road. His shadow was at 66.1 centimetres, while the sundial in Regina was 70 centimetres, or 3.9 centimetres difference.
“The earth is a sphere, and it means that I can calculate the size of the earth,” he said in a video he posted to YouTube.
Baute was hoping the shadows on the sundials 140 kilometres away would be different sizes, indicating the round shape of the planet.
If the shadows were the same size, they would have reflected a flat earth.
“We can also measure the length of the two shadows at the same time, and measure the distance between them, and figure out the circumference (of the Earth),” he said.
As for the circumference of the earth, his findings with the sundials indicated the Earth is 33,200 kilometres in circumference; it is actually a little more than 40,000 kilometres. The variance is about 17 per cent.
Baute believes the error came because he took the test about 12 minutes later than he should have.
“I try to do experiments that are almost impossible, that are just at the border of being impossible. So if they always worked out 100 per cent of the time, I think I wouldn’t be trying things that are hard enough.”
He also noted that he’s not the first person to try the experiment. A Greek scientist did it 2,200 years ago, using two Greek cities 800 kilometres apart. He had someone pace the distance between the two communities, and his findings were only off by 16 per cent, an impressive figure considering the technology he had to work with.
Baute said he selected Highway 33 because it is straight enough and flat enough for him to accurately measure the precise distance while riding his bicycle.
He found out about the highway, and southeast Saskatchewan, while he was searching the Internet and Google Maps for long, straight highways to find a place to carry out his experiment. There’s a website that lists the top 10 longest, straightest roads in the world, and Highway 33 cracked the list.
He wanted to do the experiment in Canada, and he had never been to Saskatchewan before, so he thought this was an ideal location.
The highway’s length, at nearly 140 kilometres, wasn’t a factor in his decision. He would have preferred a longer highway, since the original experiment was conducted on a much longer stretch of road.
“That makes it easier to make a precise measurement,” said Bauche. “The longer it is, the more precise the calculation you can get. I didn’t want to bike 800 kilometres necessarily, but I am happy with Highway 33 being as long as it is.”
He was pleased with the findings, although the circumference data was a little bit off. It’s not a perfectly accurate measurement, but he knows what went wrong.
“To be 17 per cent off, with two sticks and a bike, I’m truly proud of that,” said Baute.
Since he posted the video, Baute noted that some have told him that for the earth to be flat, it would mean the sun would be closer to Vancouver than Ottawa.
“If someone wants to design an experiment that can test how far the sun is, and it’s a rigorous experiment, I would look into that, and see if I could pull that experiment off,” he said.
Baute left Stoughton raving about the people. Thanks to some advance publicity, people knew who he was when he arrived, and they were excited to talk to him about the project.
“I live to talk about science with people, and there were a few people who even came up to watch me do the actual sun dial measurement,” said Baute.
One person came up to Baute and said he didn’t know what to think about the Earth being flat, because he had heard conflicting information. But that person left with a greater understanding of what science is about.
Everybody he encountered was nice and willing to help out.
Baute grew up on a farm in southwest Ontario, so he’s familiar with rural settings. He found the ride from Regina to Stoughton to be beautiful, with the blooming canola fields and the never-ending landscapes, and he found the experience to be enjoyable.