An Alternate View

By Luke Farnish

Humans have always loved drawing maps, ever since the Greeks and their contemporaries began to explore the world, we have recorded the lands we have seen on sheets of paper. However, the most important fact about any map of the Earth is that it is wrong. It is impossible to completely accurately plot a spherical surface onto a flat rectangle; therefore, all maps are wrong. The issue is, our current most used projection is very wrong. This projection you will have seen on the walls of your old geography classroom is called the Mercator projection and was drawn up in 1569.

There are features of the projection that make it useful or at least aesthetically pleasing. The top and bottom of the map represent the poles and the equator runs through the middle with the centre of the map being the prime meridian (the line of longitude designated as 0ºE) and the left and right hand edge being 180°E, roughly denoting the international date line (excluding American versions of the map which place the USA in the centre of the map and the right and left edge of the map show roughly 80°E, just east of India). However, there are huge issues with the projection. Everything is highly distorted, with areas nearer the poles being more distorted. For example, Greenland looks very large on a Mercator map, around the size of Africa but is, in truth, not much larger than just the Democratic Republic of the Congo (or is you prefer, around the same size as India looks on the projection, or the height of Australia). The issue is even worse for Antarctica which is stretched across the whole southern part of the map, making it almost impossible to tell what shape it truly is.

In the 450 years since the Mercator map was first drawn many people have suggested new projections. There is always something good about the Mercator that is sacrificed, the position of the equator, the shape of the map etc. But all of these maps are far more useful in the real world for navigation or simply educational purposes. Now a new map has come along that could top all of these. That map is AuthaGraph.

AuthaGraph is the brainchild of Hajime Narukawa, an artist and architect based in Tokyo. The idea behind the map is to change the sphere of the Earth into a sphere-like object made out of triangles (the same technique that’s used to make computer generated objects in video games). From there the map can be folded out. This in itself is a new approach and leads to a very accurate projection, but the next step adds a new level of usefulness to the map. Narukawa then flipped the map several times so that the full projection is not one Earth but nine Earths.

The projection not only shows the proportions and the positions of the landmasses with far greater accuracy than Mercator but has numerous other advantages. Due to there being nine Earths the large image can be sliced in numerous ways placing any point on the globe in the centre of the map. Equally, because the Earth is a sphere the map need not be a rectangle – equilateral triangles, parallelograms and other shapes of maps are also possible. Equally, maps that show anything that circumnavigates the Earth can be easily illustrated (Narukawa demonstrated this with a map of the voyage of Captain Cook in a Ted Talk video).

It may be some time before we see these in the classrooms, if ever. Until then, we can but dream of a world where our maps are accurate.

Image from Mental Floss

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