Apparently, Some People Believe the Earth Is Shaped Like a Donut

Wherein we debunk a theory that should need no debunking. (C'mon people.)

|
Nov 13 2018, 7:44pm

Screenshot via YouTube

There are a lot of goofy parodies of the more-ubiquitous-than-it-should-be Flat Earth Theory floating throughout the internet—Twitter accounts dedicated to Dodecahedron Earth Theory, Banana Earth Theory, Taco Earth Theory, and Dinosaur Earth Theory. We regret to inform you, however, about one that sounds just as absurd but may actually have some loyal followers: Donut Earth Theory.

Yes, some people on the internet are arguing that Earth is neither flat, nor spherical, but torus-shaped, which is a fancy science word for something that looks like a donut. The idea first appeared on FlatEarthSociety.org in a 2008 thread started by a mysterious figure named Dr. Rosenpenis as a joke, but it was fleshed out in detail by FES trailblazer Varaug in 2012.

According to the theory, there’s a huge hole in the center of the planet that we can’t see because, Varaug writes, “Light bends and follows the curvature of the torus, making the hole ‘unseeable.’” The theory raises a lot of questions about how gravity would work, which Varaug explains with a sugary, not completely cogent metaphor. “Imagine a donut. Imagine a jam donut. Gravity acts towards the jam.”

Varaug’s ideas have resurged sporadically over the years.

YouTube explainers and theoretical models of a torus Earth exploded in 2016, when some Flat Earth Society users rediscovered the thread. One user named Dinosaur Neil wrote, “I am glad to see other supporters of toroidal earth theory here. I have been promoting it for a long time but nobody ever seems to back me up. I can't understand why.”

Well, for starters, it's not scientific. Donut Earth Theory, at its most basic, “doesn't start off with a question that we need to answer,” Dr. Tabetha Boyajian, one the astrophysicists who identified a phenomenon in another solar system that the media speculated was an alien megastructure, told VICE. “It starts off as, ‘Hey, how about this?’ And then they try and explain things.” Tyler Ellis, a graduate student assisting Dr. Boyajian, adds that Varaug fails to create consistent terms to talk about the hypothesis, a vital step in the scientific process.

Even given the benefit of the doubt, Donut Earth Theory doesn't hold up to basic scientific interrogation. (VICE reached out to Dinosaur Neil and others who seem to take the idea seriously to ask why and didn't hear back.) A torus wouldn’t have night and day, nor sunrises and sunsets as we know them on our spherical world with a 24-hour rotation, says Dr. Boyajian. The sun would also hit the planet more unevenly than we see on Earth, meaning the seasons would vary wildly depending on the donut’s angle in relation to the sun. The wind would be so strong that violent weather would make life on torus Earth very difficult.

Oxford professor Dr. Anders Sandberg went deep into modeling how different the conditions on a donut-shaped planet would be for i09. For instance, gravity would be noticeably weaker close to the inner and outer equators, and stronger closer to the poles. Escape velocity would be lower, making rocket launches easier in the right spot. Those living near the hole would experience "double seasons," like a second winter in the middle of July. The most noticeable effect would be the weather. Clouds could be up to three times taller on a donut planet, and they'd be pushed around by much stronger winds.

Additionally, Dr. Boyajian and Ellis gave us two simple examples of physical phenomenon that Donut Earth Theory can’t explain. The first is Foucault’s Pendulum, which shows the physical effects of the Earth’s rotation, the rate of which is consistent with a spherical, rotating planet.

The second is the shape of the Earth’s shadow during an eclipse. A torus-shaped planet would also create a donut-shaped shadow, rather than the round shadows Earthlings have documented for centuries.

Another, more obvious problem with Donut Earth Theory is that anyone inside the ring would be able to look up and see the other side, according to Dr. Boyajian. Varaug

writes the hole is “unseeable” because “light follows the curvature of the torus.” But Dr. Boyajian points out that we usually only see light bend in the way Varaug is describing next to the largest bodies in the universe, like supermassive black holes.

“Any of those claims is just saying, ‘You know what, I'm going to just come up with a new idea with no motivation for it. Just eight things that can possibly be consistent with it,’" says Dr. Boyajian. "And that's not how we develop theories.”

Donut Earth is just one conspiracy theory in a cosmos of paranoia, alleged cover-ups, and secret histories that have become staples of entertainment and political discourse. When it comes to conspiracy theories, you can pick your poison: Flat Earth, paid protestors, the Mandela Effect, the Illuminati, aliens built the pyramids, Alex Jones is actually "deceased" comedian Bill Hicks. In the unlikely event someone wants to tell you about our Donut Earth, send them here.

Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.

Follow Beckett Mufson on Twitter and Instagram.

More VICE
Vice Channels