Monday, December 17, 2007

A beautiful and informative view

Today is an incredibly clear day, and from my window in Haifa I can see the Hermon, bright and clear, an apparently little white hill on the horizon.

The Hermon's peak is 2814 meters above sea level, so it should tower above the Israeli mountains in front of it, whose elevations are 500-1000 meters. Why then does the Hermon appear only slightly higher than them?

This is due to the curvature of the earth. A quick trigonometric calculation reveals that, at about 120 km away from me, objects should appear about 1100 meters lower than their actual height. An apparently 1700-meter-high Hermon will of course appear much smaller against a 1000-meter backdrop than a 2814-meter high mountain would. (I'm neglecting the smaller impact of the earth's curvature on the nearby Israeli mountains.)

Today was so clear I had even hoped to see Cyprus, which has mountains almost as tall as the Hermon. However, another quick calculation shows that is impossible. At 300 km away from me, the earth's curvature will cause Cyprus to be depressed by 7000 meters. If Mount Everest were located on Cyprus I might be able to see it. But it's physically impossible to see Cyprus as it in fact exists today.

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