Atmospheric lensing refers to the distortion of light caused by layers of air having different temperatures. Light rays are refracted and various types of distortion can occur, such as those you see in the "water on the road" mirage.
Atmospheric lensing is studied in various scientific fields, but in everyday use this kind of atmospheric distortion is more commonly called atmospheric refraction. On this page we are concerned with a specific lensing phenomenon that is proposed by flat-earth proponents.
Let's go back a step. In the flat-earth model, there are various problems with the positions and movements of celestial objects. Flat-earthers usually explain the resulting discrepancies with perspective, which is based on the assumption that objects such as the Sun and Moon are moving closer or farther away from the observer. However the perspective explanation has a big problem: Objects that are moving farther away should appear to get smaller, but celestial objects don't. A popular solution for flat-earthers is to extend the perspective argument with atmospheric lensing.
In this scenario, objects that are more distant are magnified by atmospheric lensing so they appear bigger. According to the flat-earth theory, the photo below shows the Sun receding into the distance but appearing to stay the same size because it's being magnified by the atmosphere.
Unfortunately there are numerous problems with this idea...
There is no supporting evidence. In order to take the idea seriously we'd need some evidence that such a phenomenon exists (the Sun and Moon can't be used as evidence because this would be a circular argument), but there are no supporting observations, no laboratory experiments or any other type of evidence at all to support the hypothesis.
There is no mechanism. Proponents often claim that magnification is caused by water vapour, but they are unable to show how this would actually work.
There is no variation. Atmospheric lensing should vary depending on conditions such as the thickness of the atmosphere and the amount of water vapour. This would mean that the size of the Sun and Moon would vary noticeably. They do not. It would also mean that the exact times of sunrise and sunset vary from the times predicted by the globe-earth model. They do not.
It's too coincidental. The angular size of the Sun remains effectively the same as it supposedly approaches and recedes. It would be an outlandish coincidence that atmospheric lensing always increases magnification at exactly the amount required to compensate for both the Sun's movement and varying atmospheric conditions.
It doesn't affect anything else. If the Sun and Moon are affected by atmospheric lensing, why aren't airplanes, hot air balloons or mountains? No matter how far away you get, you see absolutely zero atmospheric magnification.
Flat-earth atmospheric lensing is a phenomenon with no evidence, that can't be explained or demonstrated, that has an implausibly coincidental effect but only on objects that flat-earthers need it to affect, and even then does not match observation. It's not a credible hypothesis.
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Author: Dave Owen.