Posts circulating on social media falsely claim a photo showing the Earth as flat has been leaked from Elon Musk’s SpaceX or NASA. However, the image has been heavily edited.
The image appears to show a circular ocean entirely surrounded by an ice-like terrain. Recognisable continents can be identified at the centre of the ‘ocean’ with the moon and the sun pictured either side of the landmasses.
One post sharing the image says: “Apparently this is a leaked SpaceX, nasa photo, one of eleven, could be high altitude drones, or balloons, still waiting for a fact check. [sic]”
Another post says: “Data leak at Elon Musk AND NASA - this photo and another eleven photos are said to be from one of Elon Musk’s Space-X satellites. These photos were not encrypted during transmission. NASA hackers would have intercepted them.”
While we cannot confirm the original source of the image, examples can be found as early as September 2018 and appear in multiple different languages on online platforms including Facebook, YouTube, X (formerly known as Twitter) and TikTok.
However, there are several clues the image is computer-generated or has been heavily edited and is not a genuine photograph showing the Earth is flat.
Firstly, it would not be possible for a photograph taken from a Starlink satellite operated by SpaceX to capture a view from such a high altitude, even if the Earth were flat. Starlink satellites are used to enable internet connection in remote parts of the world and orbit at an average altitude of 550 kilometres (342 miles), much closer to Earth than many other types of satellites.
According to NASA, satellites orbiting at 37,000 kilometres (23,000 miles) from Earth have “sweeping views of large portions of the planet” while cameras on satellites orbiting at 375 kilometres (233 miles) only have a field of view of around 1,500 kilometres (932 miles) of Earth. Therefore, Starlink satellites don’t have a high enough altitude to capture the perspective shown in this image.
Similarly, on average the moon is around 380,000 kilometres (236,000 miles) away from the Earth and the sun is 150 million kilometres (93 million miles) away—it’s impossible for a Starlink to capture a photo of either entity at this angle. Even if this was hypothetically possible, they would not be the same size. Moreover, real footage shared directly by Elon Musk from a Starlink satellite shows the Earth as a sphere surrounded by space.
As other fact checkers have noted, the image shows daylight across all continents and doesn’t have any clouds. NASA explains that multiple similar photos can be combined to create a composite photo with no clouds or particular lighting. However, we’ve not been able to find the other 10 photographs referred to in the social media posts, or any other versions of the image containing clouds or different lighting to show it could have been created using this technique.
This suggests the image is entirely computer-generated or possibly created using a photograph of the Earth that had already been edited to remove clouds and show daylight everywhere.
A video on YouTube shows how a concept called stereographic projection can be used to map 3D spheres to 2D circles, in this case with a map of the Earth. A webpage here also shows several photos that have been edited using a “stereographic projection technique” to create other images similar to the one shared in the post.
Moreover, while the posts are unclear on whether both SpaceX and NASA have been hacked, or whether NASA hacked SpaceX, neither of these scenarios have been reported by reliable media sources.
Full Fact has previously written about other false claims concerning conspiracy theories relating to space and the Earth being flat, including that satellites are fake and that NASA pasted an image of Earth into photos from the moon.