Category: Travel Unravel

Can You See The Curvature Of The Earth From A Plane?

airplane window sunset

One of the most common rebuttals to people who believe the Earth is flat (aside from the countless experiments, equations of gravitation, camera and satellite footage, Enstein’s theory of relativity and time dilation, insert pretty much endless evidence here) is that one can observe the curvature of the planet from a passenger airplane at cruising altitude. But is that true?

Well, sort of. Here’s what that means.

Starting On The Ground

One of the ways the ancient Greeks concluded the Earth is spherical was by observing ships on a horizon. Boats moving away from an observer on the beach disappear – with the appearance that they are sinking into the sea. This illusion happens because the ship is moving further along the curve of the Earth. (Tape a box of matches to a beach ball, put it close to your face, then rotate it for a miniature version.)

tulum beach

We have several components of an equation, courtesy astrophysicist David Lynch, that can be used to calculate the curvature of the Earth. By measuring how much of the boat falls below the horizon based on the distance from the observer at sea level, the radius of our planet can be calculated. Alternatively, if we take the radius of Earth for granted (and trust what’s already been proven) we can also determine the Earth’s radius.

In short, the higher in altitude you are, the further you can see – a direct result of you moving up and the horizon of the Earth being lower in relation to you.

As DrGC describes the following image:

radius

“Cartoon defining the variables used above. d is the distance of visibility, h is the elevation of the observer O above the sea level.”

Plug in the numbers and at 10,000 meters (~35,000 feet) the horizon of the Earth will appear 3 degrees lower than at sea level (remember the ship falling below the horizon above).

Seeing any observable curvature from a plane is difficult for several reasons:

  1. Airplane windows distort light coming into the plane, in other words, they add a curvature effect not too unlike a wide-angle lens.
  2. Using the formulas above, you would need a roughly 60 degree field of view to see any curvature –  a standard passenger window doesn’t isn’t enough.
  3. A clear sky over the ocean is a must. The figure below illustrates why a plane just isn’t high enough for a clear curved view.

curvature of earth

Relative to the Earth’s size, you’re not really all that high up. Fortunately there are lots of experiments you can do from the ground to prove the Earth is round shown in the video below.

Or just send up a camera on a weather balloon.

power of math

Finally, if you want to do more aerial mathematics, here’s how to calculate the angle at which your plane turns on its side or the angle up during takeoff.

Do You Still Need A Point And Shoot Camera When Traveling?

We’ve all got a smartphone in our pocket or hand right now that probably has a camera with a higher resolution on paper than many point and shoots on the market. Software on phones like the Pixel 3 have pushed the boundaries of what small lenses are capable of, so you might be asking yourself if it’s worth bringing a dedicated camera on your next trip at all?

You can see the answer to that question in the video above or read on.

Shrinking Markets

Recently, while doing a Road Tested! on the 4 year old Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS45 to see how well it’s held up, I realized the question became less about the camera and more about the technology itself. There are some clear advantages to traveling with only a phone and what they can’t do, bulkier DSLRs do better than point and shoots, similar prices. Small markets generally mean a more specific target market, here’s whether or not that’s you.

shot on pixel 2 andando tours

First, let’s start off with the current phone you’re using. For this article, I’m generally talking about flagship phones that are 1-2 years old at most. The iPhone X, 8, Samsung Galaxy 9, Google Pixel 2 and above – that class of phone. Older phones might be adequate but they don’t do a good job of bridging few large gaps with point and shoots listed below.

Wide Zoom

Because of the limited size of smartphones, manufacturers have had to come up with creative ways at implementing a zoom lens. Some use a two-camera setup (one for wide, the other telephoto) but in general, optical zoom on smartphones is limited. (Digital zoom – a software trick – isn’t very good, although the Huawei Honor View 20 I saw at CES was promising.)

panasonic lumix g7 g85

Obviously cameras with interchangeable lenses like the Panasonic Lumix G85 give you a lot of angle options but if you don’t want to carry the bulk, the ZS70K is a pocket-sized camera with a massive range. And not just zoom range but the often neglected wide-angle.

For travel photos, wide angles are generally more useful. Often, you can get closer to stuff but if there’s a ledge, crowd, or some other obstacle behind you, the wider the angle, the fewer steps backward you need to get one of the world’s largest buildings into view.

Some Considerations Being Eliminated

A few years ago the low-light performance of most smartphones was one of the big selling points for getting a dedicated camera (with its bigger lens). On Google phones at least, that’s not a problem anymore. See below:

Apple and other manufacturers will eventually copy catch up on this incredible software-enabled feature; not only keeping up with point and shoots but leaping well ahead of them.

Niche Functions

Still photos, portraits, action shots, and video are all equally on par with most point and shoot cameras. In many ways point and shoots can outperform a smartphone, but it’s probably not worth the weight or an additional $500. There are some exceptions though; like if you want a microphone jack to record high-quality audio (not impossible with phones either), use HDMI for output, or spare your phone’s battery life.

Additionally a point and shoot can also give you another angle to shoot from (i.e. multiple cameras), tend to sit up better without having to lean on stuff, and aren’t as tragic of a loss or theft than your precious smartphone. Ultimately, good point and shoot cameras worth buying are in the $500 range, bumping right up to cameras like the mirrorless G7. At those prices, unless physical size is extremely important for you, a slightly bulkier camera with lens options might be best, otherwise a new smartphone is likely all you’ll need to carry.

This is an updated version of a post originally written in 2017, a lot has changed in cameras since then.

How The U.S. Government Shutdown Affects Traveling Americans And Visitors From Abroad

washington dc

The United States Federal Government has been partially closed since December 22nd, indefinitely, until the Congress with the president’s approval can pass a budget to allocate funds for several major agencies. Since government shutdowns like the one in Washington DC are exceedingly rare elsewhere in the developed world, the procedures and cutbacks pertaining to services, travel or otherwise can be unclear.

Many are ad-hoc to an extent; based in part on how long the showshutdown will last. For those of you planning a trip to, from, or within of the United States, here’s what you need to know.

A Brief Breakdown – What Is A Shutdown?

Since 1884 The Antideficiency Act prevents the federal government of the United States from spending money that hasn’t been appropriated by Congress. The current government shutdown is a partial one, affecting roughly a quarter of the U.S. government.

Why The Shutdown Happened –Congress and the president cannot agree over the allocation of funds, in particular, regarding a border wall with Mexico. As The Balance explains,

The Constitution gives Congress the power over the federal budget. Article 1, Section 9, states, “No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequences of Appropriations made by Law.”

The president’s role is to submit a budget proposal to Congress. He asks all federal agencies to submit their budget requests to him. The Office of Management and Budget compiles these requests. The president submits this budget to Congress. Congress usually follows this budget as a guideline to create its own budget resolution. That is used to create the appropriations bill. These bills allocate funds for different categories of government agencies. 

Approximately 800,000 federal workers have been furloughed (temporary unpaid leave) until a budget is passed. Only those employees deemed “essential” are still on the job. For example, only 3% of NASA employees are at work right now but not getting paid. The Transportation Security Administration is also affected; meaning although staff are at work, they will not be paid until a federal budget is passed. No money, no funny, no government.

How Long Will The Shutdown Last?

The biggest question at the moment is: when will this shutdown end? President Donald Trump has said it could go on for years but that seems highly unlikely. Already hundreds of TSA employees are calling out sick as there’s no paycheck in sight. Since the federal government shutdown 3 times in 2018, other disruptions likely, so this is what travelers need to keep in mind.

Travel Visas To The U.S. – No Change (Theoretically)

The State Department remains operational, meaning services such as visa applications that are funded through fees should continue to be processed at relatively normal time frames. However, during the one shutdown in 1996, nearly 30,000 applications went unprocessed per day.

new york new york

Travel Visas From The U.S. – No Change

Since visas applications for other countries are handled by the consular services of those governments, your tourist visas won’t be delayed or disrupted due to the U.S. shutdown.

new delhi airport

Passport Services For U.S. Citizens – It Depends

Although the State Department is processing new passports, renewals, and page additions as normal, several of their passport offices are located within government buildings currently closed due to the shutdown. If your passport is in one of them, it won’t be processed until the shutdown ends.

U.S. National Parks – All Closed

Including the Grand Canyon, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Joshua Tree, Yosemite, and Virgin Islands National Park in the Caribbean. Here’s a Wikipedia page with the full list of now-closed national parks.

Smithsonian Museums And National Zoo – Closed

In Washington DC, Smithsonian Museums, plus the National Zoo, are closed during the shutdown as well as the American Indian Museum Heye Center and Cooper Hewitt in New York City. A shame, because both the National Air and Space Museum in the city and right outside, remain some of my favorite in the world.

U.S. National Forests – Partially Closed

It’s not practically possible to close all National Forests, which total 769,000 square kilometers (297,000 square miles) so rather, all campgrounds and offices must remain empty. National park rangers and security will still be working though, these are the services currently running.

dharamsala india forest

Monuments, Capitol, White House Tours – Closed And Canceled Until Further Notice

Most of these US National Monuments are affected but their websites aren’t being updated during the shutdown. Here’s a list of DC monument statuses, the Statue of Liberty is open, but you’ll need to do some Internet searching to get details for most sites. Tours of the US Capitol Building, one of 5 popular tourist destinations that won’t disappoint you, are also on hiatus during the shutdown. State monuments and government buildings like the Texas Capitol Building in Austin are open however.

Will The Airlines Refund Me If My Travel Plans Are Ruined?

Having contacted a number of major airlines, most will not provide a refund or voucher even if you can prove your trip to a destination (e.g. National Park) is directly affected by the shutdown. (U.S.-based carriers seemed more sympathetic to such concerns; if you’re a furloughed employee, be sure to mention that as well.) You may though have trip insurance through the credit card you used to purchase airfare; otherwise check with your insurance provider – you may also have opted for trip protection through (e.g. Expedia), be sure to double-check that as well.

This latest government shutdown has been one of the longest in U.S. history. It seems, given the trends from the last year, more shutdowns are probable so it’s best to get travel insurance prior to a trip to or within the United States if you’re planning to see federally-funded sites. Or, if you aren’t feeling particularly impatient, make plans to visit these places with fully functioning governments.

This is an updated version of a post originally written in 2013.

How Much Does The Average Passenger Plane Angle Up During Take Off?

This post is part of Geek Takeover Week 2018.

madrid airport

You might have wondered as the wheels of the jumbo jet you’re in gently leave the ground how high up the nose of your plane is angled up. What feels like a fairly mild angle when you’re inside the plane looks like a mild airshow stunt when you’re watching from the ground, so, how much does a typical passenger plane angle up during take off?

Caveats Away

Let’s start but clarifying the answer is a detailed, “it depends.” Details, by pilot standards, are important, as in i.e. not crashing. For our purposes though, we can generalize. Your plane’s angle going up (called the “angle of attack”) varies by the size of the plane, engine power, wind, and load on the aircraft. Those are some of the physical considerations but then there are also practical ones. Airport traffic is one example; and the reason flights often begin descent 320 kilometers (200 miles) from their destination.

sky combat ace

Angle At A Time

Planes slowly angle up during take off at about 2-3 degrees per second for a Boeing 747. A bit of quick math and using the same Boeing 747 as an example, the average passenger plane has a maximum take off angle of about 10-15 degrees. That’s well within the plane’s tolerances of course. (The Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner can go almost straight up.) Much like the 30 degree turns most jumbo jets max out at though, angles are kept moderate to make you feel most comfortable, save on fuel, and be as safe as possible.

Nothing More Than Feelings

The angle of attack will feel more pronounced depending on where you’re sitting in the plane. Up in business class on a larger airplane gives you the sensation of a steeper angle, closer to the wings and it will feel less pronounced. Though now you’ll know really what that angle is, giving you more time to calculate time dilation from traveling so fast and far from Earth. For (still) nervous flyers, these 7 plane crash facts might make you feel better. Or not.

How Much Does A Plane Turn (On Its Side) When Turning In The Air?

airplane turn

Have you ever wondered when looking out the window as your plane is maneuvering for a landing, how steep those turns actually are? The slight jolt in your stomach combined with the view out the window (what seems like all ground or all sky depending on which side you’re on) gives the impression that your plane is nearly on its side.

The truth is the airlines try not to freak you out and keep things comfortable in the cabin. Jumbo jet turns are impressive but not as drastic as your senses are telling you.

Two Forces At Work

Let’s keep things very simple. Planes in flight need to move forward (speed) to keep a constant flow of air over the wings. This constant flow of air provides lift. As you gain altitude upon takeoff, the wings are angled up. When you reach a cruising altitude, speed is reduced and the wings are angled in a way to provide and equal balance between two forces: lift and gravity.

plane turn

At takeoff in particular, as the plane accelerates, you can feel the gravitational force (g-force) increase. You feel heavier in your seat (the forward momentum is pushing you into the seat). At cruising altitude your plane is no longer accelerating and you feel “normal” i.e. at 1 g.

What Happens When A Plane Turns

There are ailerons on airplane wings what help with direction and lift. (Basically flaps of metal.) Going straight, the aileron are generally straight. To turn an airplane right, the left aileron goes down, the right goes up. This causes the left wing to go up, and the right wing to go down. In this configuration, the plane is now at an angle, with increased overall drag (because the ailerons up or down are less aerodynamic than a straight wing).

Increased drag slows the airplane. Also, in a turn, there’s less area of lift under a wing, causing it to lose altitude. However, to compensate, pilots angle the airplane up as well as increase thrust (speed) to maintain a constant altitude during a turn. You’ll probably feel those changes in your stomach.

Keeping You Comfy

Passenger jets typically don’t bank more than 30 degrees on a turn. They’re capable of more but the steeper the turn, the more thrust needed to keep the plane from losing altitude. Turns at angles more than 30 degrees would cause more g-forces which wouldn’t help airsickness or nervous fliers.

So despite it looking like your plane is about to do a barrel roll on every significant turn, next time you fly, know it’s probably only banked about 20-30 degrees at most. Once you’re on the ground you’ll hear the flight attendants say cross-check, here’s why.

[Second photo by: Nicoguaro]

The Best Place To Travel Right Now: Answering My Inbox Q&Av2

I’m sent a lot of travel and tech questions by email and although I reply to them all, I want to share some of those responses publicly to help more of you travel smarter. In the video above, I answer your questions about the best places to travel right now, good VPN choices, and more.

I’ll have an occasional Q&A video for you on my YouTube channel so feel free to let me know any travel questions you might have in the comments below.

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About Anil Polat

foxnomad aboutI'm the blogger and computer security engineer who writes foXnoMad while on a journey to visit every country in the world. I'll show you the tips, tricks, and tech you can use to travel smarter. Read More


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