It’s round, it’s two-sided and it could be the most accurate world map created till date

It’s round, it’s two-sided and it could be the most accurate world map created till date
Representative imageUnsplash
  • A team of three mapmakers, led by J Richard Gott from Princeton University, have come up with a new kind of map that claims to be the most accurate, yet flat, depiction of the world yet.
  • It’s round and two-sided, much like a vinyl record.
  • It has smaller distance errors than any single-sided map — setting a new record.
Ever since we were little kids, we’ve been conditioned to see the world in a certain way. Mapmakers have obsessed over how to show the world as accurately as possible on the flat pages of an atlas and in geography textbooks. But, no map is perfect because the world isn’t actually flat.

Now, there’s a new map that claims to be the most accurate one yet. It’s round. It’s two-sided. And, it looks a lot like an old-school phonograph record or vinyl LP.

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It’s round, it’s two-sided and it could be the most accurate world map created till date
Gott, Goldberg and Vanderbei’s double-sided disk map minimizes all six types of map distortions. Antarctica and Australia are more accurately represented than in most other maps, and distances across oceans or across poles are both accurate and easy to measure, unlike one-sided flat maps. J. Richard Gott, Robert Vanderbei and David Goldberg via Princeton University

This new map has been developed by a team of map experts led by J Richard Gott, a professor of astrophysics at Princeton. Being two-sided, the map is able to show both sides of the globe without the conventional limitations of being 2D.
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“If you’re an ant, you can crawl from one side of this ‘phonograph record’ to the other,” said Gott in a statement.

A new map, a new record
The accuracy of a map can be measured by what cartographers call the Goldberg-Gott score. It quantifies six types of distortions — local shapes, areas, distance, bending, skewness or lopsidedness and boundary cuts.

The lower score, the better a map is. The globe, for instance, would have a score of 0.
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“Our map is actually more like the globe than other flat maps. To see all of the globe, you have to rotate it. To see all of our new map, you simply have to flip it over,” said Gott.

Until now, there are two map projections that are commonly found in textbooks and atlases. The Winkel Tripel flat map projection, which has a score of 4.563, and the Mercator projection, which has a score of 8.296.

It’s round, it’s two-sided and it could be the most accurate world map created till date
The Winkel Tripel projection, chosen by the National Geographic for its world maps, represents the poles more accurately than the Mercator, but it still distorts Antarctica badly and creates the illusion that Japan is hugely to the east of California, instead of its nearest neighbor to the west. Daniel R. Strebe via Wikimedia Commons

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This new flat map developed by Gott, Robert Vanderbei and David Goldberg managed to hit a score of 0.881. It has smaller distance errors than any single-sided map — setting a new record.

The previous record was set in 2007 by Gott himself along with Charles Mugnolo — also a Princeton alumnus.

The problem with the Mercator and Winkel Tripel projections is that distance errors become an issue the closer one gets to the poles. “We have continuity over the equator. Africa and South America are draped over the edge, like a sheet over a clothesline, but they’re continuous,” Gott explained.

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It’s round, it’s two-sided and it could be the most accurate world map created till date
In the Mercator projection, the polar regions are completely distorted — Antarctica looks bigger than all other continents combined — and distances are misleading with Japan and Hawaii looking very far apart.<br>Daniel R. Strebe via Wikimedia Commons

For you and me, the new map can be printed front-and-back on a single page. All we would have to do is cut it out in order to use it.

The team, ideally, wants to print their maps on cardboard or plastic so that they can be stacked like records and stored together in a box or slipped inside the covers of textbooks. So, one could collect an entire set — a physical copy, a political map, one for population density and perhaps another climate. Or, the same concept could also be applied to other planets and you could collect the entire solar system.

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