Objects on the map are smaller than they appear

Which is larger? Greenland or Australia? The world map you used in geography class is ridiculously inaccurate.

The most popular representation of a map is the Mercator projection, which is accurate for places near the equator, but enlarges places that are closer to the poles. On a standard Mercator projection map, Greenland appears as big as Africa does. However, its real size is closer to that of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Russia is a large country, but not as large as your map leads you to believe. In fact, it appears twice as large on world maps than it actually is.

A relation between the Mercator projection and the actual relative size of each country – Source

Initially conceived in the 16th century, the Mercator projection is advantageous for navigation. It is designed so that if you charted a straight line course between any two points on the map, you would still reach your destination despite the earth’s curvature. Given the prominence of naval exploration in that era, the Mercator projection quickly turned into the world’s most popular map, which it continues to remain to this day.

However, there are several other projections of the world map that represent the size of landmasses more accurately – something that is more relevant to teaching us geography or hanging in our living rooms. Yet, we refuse to change because these new projects would look ‘weird’ to our eyes that are already accustomed to the Mercator projection’s distortions.

A Gall-Peters projection map, where relative sizes are more accurately representedSource

The conventions we follow may not continue to serve us. Yet, like a piece of chewed gum on a trash can, they continue to stick around. We ought to be careful while choosing them and thoughtful about persisting with them.

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