Most people lucky enough to receive an education will have seen the 2D printed projection of a map of the Earth. This image has allowed people everywhere to learn about our big wide world, all from one piece of paper. Though sorry to break it to you, these aren’t actually the true proportions of the globe.
“Every world map is distorted in some respect,” Matthew Edney, a professor of geography and the history of cartography at the University of Southern Maine, told Live Science. “It’s a question of what you want. Do you want the regions to be shaped as they are on a globe, or sized as they are on a globe? For most purposes, the latter is much more appropriate, but the aesthetic of the former is still culturally hegemonic.”
This toss-up between shape and size leaves some countries bigger or smaller than they actually are, and the distance between landmasses inaccurate. The most common layout of the Earth, called The Mercator projection, was designed in 1569 by the Flemish geographer and cartographer Gerardus Mercator.
This projection considers both shape and size, although countries closer to the poles are more stretched out. For example, Greenland is shown to be around the same size as Africa, even though the continent is nearly 14 times bigger than the Nordic country.
What other map alternatives are there?
Gall-Peters projection: spatially accurate but leaves countries looking distorted, especially at the poles.
The Winkel Tripel projection: created and favored by National Geographic. Although here, the problem lies in the Pacific Ocean which is largely overstretched. It is also known as the compromise project, as tries to remove as many common distortions as possible.
The pancakes maps: unconventionally, this map is laid out in two circles like pancakes. Created by astrophysicists in 2021, it is claimed to be the most accurate flare image of Earth ever created.