Maps are flat representations of our spherical planet. I cut open a plastic globe to understand just what it takes to turn a sphere into something flat:

Why all world maps are wrong

My struggle to make a flat map out of the plastic globe is indicative of a challenge mapmakers have faced for centuries: It is mathematically impossible to translate the surface of a sphere onto a plane without some form of distortion.

To solve this problem, mathematicians and cartographers have developed a huge library of representations of the globe, each distorting a certain attribute and preserving others.

For instance, the Mercator projection preserves the shape of countries while distorting the size, especially near the north and south pole.

For a more accurate view of land area look at the Gall-Peters projection, which preserves area while distorting shape.

In the end, there’s not “right” map projection. Each comes with trade-offs, and cartographers make projection decisions based on the particular tasks at hand. But if you are interested in seeing an accurate depiction of the planet, it’s best to stick with a globe.

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