New Survey: 1 in 4 Americans Believe the Sun Revolves Around the Earth

By Tom Yulsman | February 17, 2014 10:00 pm

You read that right. According to a new survey sponsored by the National Science Foundation, about a quarter of American adults evidently have been left behind by the Copernican revolution.

Which began almost half a millennium ago and ended 200 years later. That would be in the 1700’s.

(A quick aside: When I first posted this short piece, I was in such a state of absolute disbelief that I wrote a headline saying that 1 in 4 Americans believe that the Earth revolves around the sun.)

Okay, just for the record . . .

The heliocentric model was advanced by Nicolas Copernicus back in the 1500’s. Before then, the Ptolemaic view of the universe held that the Earth was at the center of everything. It was a model that didn’t die easily.

Galileo Galilei conducted observations of Venus with his telescope that gave strong support to the sun-centered model of Copernicus. Later, Isaac Newton figured out gravity (or at least the big picture), which explained the force that caused the planets, including Earth, to revolve around the sun. Case closed.

I have to say that I can’t believe I’m writing this. Suffice it to say that if you have a batty uncle or some such who hasn’t yet heard of the Copernican revolution, show him the video above of Venus transiting in front of the sun, as seen by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. I don’t know whether that will be helpful. But it could be a start.




ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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