Astrophysicists Design World Map That Looks Like a Vinyl LP

The new map provides a less distorted look into the world.
Derya Ozdemir

Flattening a sphere is nowhere an easy task. The third dimension of space needs to be sacrificed in some way which is why all map projections can be somewhat inaccurate and distorted.

Mapmakers have suffered from this problem for ages; for example, while the Mercator projection, which you will recognize from classroom walls, is good at depicting local shapes, they actually distort surface areas so badly that Antarctica looks bigger than all other continents combined with Japan and Hawaii looking very far apart.

So how do you actually flatten a sphere as perfectly as possible? Princeton University astrophysicists have re-imaged maps in a way that has resulted in the most accurate flat map ever made, according to a press release.

A double-sided approach to seeing the world

The researchers J. Richard Gott, an emeritus professor of astrophysics at Princeton; Robert Vanderbei, a professor of operations research and financial engineering; and David Goldberg, a professor of physics at Drexel University, have come up with a new map that is double-sided and round, much like a vinyl LP.

The map is superior to single-sided flat maps since it has much smaller distance errors. It is stated that it is impossible for distances to be off by more than ± 22.2 percent. For example, in the Mercator projection, distance errors become enormous near the poles. When going from left to the right margins, the distance errors become infinite, the press release states.

The new double-sided version can be printed front-and-back on a single magazine page and then be cut out by the reader. The researchers reportedly want to print their maps on cardboard or plastic and then stack them like records. This way they can be stored together in a box or put inside the covers of textbooks.

This is the first double-sided map that is this accurate, the researchers say. "Our map is actually more like the globe than other flat maps," Gott said. "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."

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