During one of those long thoughtful walks on a beach that you particularly adore, your eyes have surely wandered off into the seemingly endless body of water lapping in those small waves at your feet. You must have looked as far as the eye could see, and at the end, you could see the magical, almost surreal place where the ocean met the sky: the horizon. Maybe you have wondered whether there actually was a place where those two majestic forms met. If there really were a place like that, how far would it be?
Well, we’re not sure about ever standing in that “spot”, but we can definitely help you figure out the distance between the spot where you imagined all those things and the horizon itself!
Horizon: Getting the Facts Straight
First off, let’s be clear about the existence of the horizon. The ‘horizon’ is the line where the earth’s surface and the sky ‘appear’ to meet and blend into each other. As the definition clearly states, it only appears that way; in other words, it is something that you see as being real, but is not real in actuality. I must apologize for skewing your fantasies about this oft-romanticized feature of the nature, but there is no point where the sky and the seas actually meet. However, there’s always a chance that such a point might exist in some other part of the world that remains unseen to our eyes.
Nevertheless, since there ‘appears’ to be a place where they meet, and because we are people whose connections with science transcends ‘worldly’ boundaries, it’s our duty to figure out the distance to where the sky and the sea appear to meet.
How Far Away is the Horizon?
Thankfully, there does exist an answer to this question – and quite an easy one! You can actually calculate how far you are standing from the horizon while hanging out at the edge of the water at a beach.
What makes it even more interesting is that there is no fixed answer to this question, as the distance varies from one individual to another. This is because the distance of the horizon is determined by a physical factor… your own height!
Confused? Let me explain.
For ease of calculation, let’s start by assuming that the Earth is perfectly spherical in shape (which it’s not, as its surface has irregularities). Therefore, people of different heights will see the horizon at dissimilar distances (scope out the figure below to understand this better).
Calculation of the Distance
In the figure, ‘R’ represents the radius of Earth, ‘h’ represents the individual’s height, and the red line represents the distance.
In order to calculate the distance between yourself and the horizon, you need to measure the height of your eyes from the ground (when you are standing on the ground, and not on any kind of elevated surface). You can obtain this value by subtracting the distance between your eyes and the tip of your head from your total height. Let’s assume this value comes out to be, 1.5 meters. Since we assume that the planet is spherical, we need its radius too, which is 6,378,137 meters.
Now, all you have to do is apply the Pythagorean Theorem to calculate the distance of the horizon using this formula:
where ‘a’ is the radius of the Earth, ‘b’ is the distance to the horizon, and ‘c’ is your (eye) height.
Therefore, for a person whose eye height is 1.5 meters, the horizon will be approximately 4.4 kilometers away from them.
However, don’t try to row your boat 4.4 kilometers out into the ocean, thinking that it’s not a great distance, because as you row towards the horizon, it will always appear to be farther off, changing the distance constantly while you move towards it. This is just more evidence of why some of nature’s most wonderful things are not meant to be acquired, they’re only there to remind us how some things can never be possessed!