As you step into the school classroom, you may see a flat rectangular map of the world that stretches beyond the walls. Generations of children have grown up learning that this projection looks like the Earth. But does this flat map really reflect what our planet looks like?
Designed with the best intent, but to provide detailed and consistent forecasts Earth — Flat maps are far from accurate. Some areas look much larger than they really are, others look much smaller, and the distances between different lands are misrepresented.
“All world maps are distorted in a way,” Matthew Edney, a professor of geography and cartography history at the Southern University of Maine, told Live Science in an email.
“It’s a matter of what you want,” he said. “Whether the area should be shaped like a globe or sized to a globe. In most cases, the latter is much more appropriate, but the former aesthetic is still culturally hegemonic.”
Despite the protest Flat Earth theory, Our home planet is not flat — technically an oblate spheroid — a sphere that is flat at the top and bottom and bulges along the equator.
This has raised major issues for cartographers since the dawn of mapping. How can a 3D object be perfectly represented in 2D?
If you have a spare glove or an old tennis ball, try cutting it open and rearranging it into a perfect rectangle. This unrealistic challenge helps us to see how incompatible a spheroid and a flat rectangle are.
Created by Flemish geographer and cartographer Gerardus Mercator in 1569, the Mercator projection is a half-century-old revelation and continues to be the most widely used flat depiction of the Earth. According to MapHover.. This map has been favored by officers for centuries because it allows the officer to draw a straight line on the course.
However, there are still many challenges in terms of accuracy.
“Some predictions are more distorted than others,” Edney said. “The Mercator projection is a classic example. This projection is conformal and has the special property that the great circle is a straight line,” says Edoni.
A great circle is “defined as a circle drawn on the earth with a center that includes the center of the earth”, According to ThoughtCo, Educational resources website.
“This combination of properties produces a large area of distortion. On Earth, the meridians converge as they approach the poles, and the parallels shorten to the poles. But when the Earth is mapped to a rectangle, the poles Is stretched from the point to the length of the equator. All parallels are stretched to the length of the equator, so on the map they are stretched horizontally as they move toward the poles.
“On Earth, parallels are evenly spaced, but in order to obtain the special properties of great circles and straight lines, the Mercator projection exponentially increases parallel separation as it moves in the polar direction. On the map, the vertical elongation increases as you move. The parallels. “
As a result, some areas are displayed on the map much larger than they really are, while others are drawn much smaller.
“This distortion is usually expressed in relative sizes in Greenland, Europe, Africa and India. The former two are” larger “than they should be, and the latter pair is much smaller. Again, everything is relative. “
Putting this in context, Greenland and Africa appear to be similar in size in the Mercator projection, but in reality Africa is almost 14 times larger. According to Scientific American..Similarly, Alaska is described as about three times as large as Mexico, but in reality Mexico is. 1.3 times larger..
So, if the Mercator projection is flawed in terms of its ability to represent size, is there any other world map to use instead?
“One of the popular alternatives to the Mercator projection in the 1970s and 1980s is the equal area projection, but the very ugly Gall-Peters projection,” Edney said. “My academic grandfather, Arthur Robinson, said it looked like long underwear hung in a row to dry the continent.”
This prediction has its own accuracy issues. All areas are the correct size for each other, but most land is distorted to achieve that. The land appears to extend horizontally at the poles and vertically at the equator. So the country is almost the right size, but never the right shape. This distortion, like the Mercator projection, is most noticeable at the poles.
Various other flat maps have been drawn for centuries, but they all have the same problem. It is impossible to draw a 3D Earth on a 2D map without compromise.The Winkel projectionIs a flat map designed by the National Geographic Society, designed in 1921, but it still has distortion issues, especially for the Pacific Ocean, which looks wider than it really is.
This map is favored by National Geographic because it is less distorted when compared to other smaller maps. It does not completely eliminate common flat map distortions in area, direction, and distance, but it is known as “compromise projection” because it minimizes as much as possible. This ultimately means that almost every part of the map is distorted in some way, not excessively.
In 2021, astrophysicists created what is believed to be the most accurate planar map of the Earth to date. As reported by live science.. It consists of two “pancake maps” that can be viewed side by side or back to back. This method of representing the Earth is fundamentally different from almost every other flat map, and it is not yet known if it will be widely used in textbooks and classroom walls.
“If all map publishers move to equal area projection, I want it,” Edney said. “But in the end, the question is what will sell.”
Originally published on Live Science.
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