Close your eyes and think of the Earth. What do you see? A blue marble suspended in space, perhaps. Look closer and you might see entire continents and oceans, just like the maps we are so used to seeing in books. But look even closer, and you might notice that something… seems a little off.
Click start to play our Word Search, which sets you on a hunt for geographical terms.
Despite decades of publication, the maps that we pored over in school and the ones that exist in our memories are not actually reliable. According to a 2018 report by National Geographic, there are many misconceptions and errors – many of them quite large – that exist in maps.
For one, entire continents have been misplaced. South America, for instance, should have been called Southeast America, because virtually the entire continent lies to the east of Florida, US, and not directly below it, as is often depicted. And two-thirds of Africa lies above the equator, but our mental map of it probably shows the continent existing predominantly in the southern hemisphere, directly across from South America. Another misplacement involves Europe, which appears directly across the US. In fact, it is much further north and actually lines up better with Canada.
Surprised? There’s more. When you consider the maps that often line classroom walls in schools, they probably use the Mercator projection – a way of representing the Earth’s curved surface on a flat map. But flattening a 3D globe onto a two-dimensional surface can create distortion. The unfortunate result is that the relative sizes of several countries are represented incorrectly.
For instance, the Mercator projection inflates the size of land near the poles. So, Greenland is often shown to be the same size as South America, when the latter is eight times bigger! Brazil, on the other hand, is often unimpressive on many maps, but in reality, it is bigger than the entire US – and almost as large as Canada. Another misconception has to do with the US state of Alaska, which seems quite large on maps, but is actually just a little smaller than Libya.