Revisiting Columbus At 500... What If?

On the occasion of the Columbus Quincentennial, it is interesting to speculate on how simple optical observations, or the lack thereof, may have had a major impact on the course of world history. Standing on a pier overlooking Mobile Bay one night, we noticed a phenomenon illustrated in Figure 1. As the head of the observer descends, it reaches a height x above the water at which a string of causeway lights across the bay suddenly disappear. These lights, whose height above the water is y, drop below the horizon due to the earth's radius of curvature, R.

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