Measuring the radius of the Earth in 240 BC

e=mc2andallthat

The brain is wider than the sky,
For, put them side by side,
The one the other will include
With ease, and you beside.

Emily Dickinson, ‘The Brain’

Most science teachers find that ‘Space’ is one of the most enduringly fascinating topics for many students: the sense of wonder engendered as our home planet becomes lost in the empty vastness of the Solar System, which then becomes lost in the trackless star-studded immensity of the Milky Way galaxy, is a joy to behold.

But a common question asked by students is: How do we know all this? How do we know the distance to the nearest star to the Sun is 4 light-years? Or how do we know the distance to the Sun? Or the Moon?

I admit, with embarrassment, that I used to answer with a casual and unintentionally-dismissive ‘Oh well, scientists have measured them!’ which (though true) must…

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About e=mc2andallthat

Gethyn Jones BSc, PGCE, MCCT is a physics teacher of over 29 years experience who still enjoys teaching (well, most of the time anyway). He lives in London with his lovely wife and two rescue cats. Please follow him on Twitter @emc2andallthat
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