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Eratosthenes' measurement of the Earth's circumference

At Syene (now Aswan), some 800 km (500 miles) southeast of Alexandria in Egypt, the Sun's rays fall vertically at noon at the summer solstice. Eratosthenes, who was born in c. 276 BC, noted that at Alexandria, at the same date and time, sunlight fell at an angle of about 7 degee from the vertical. He correctly assumed the Sun's distance to be very great; its rays therefore are practically parallel when they reach the Earth. Given estimates of the distance between the two cities, he was able to calculate the circumference of the Earth. The exact length of the units (stadia) he used is doubtful, and the accuracy of his result is therefore uncertain; it may have varied by 0.5 to 17 percent from the value accepted by modern astronomers.

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