One of the most common maps of the world is in fact, one of the most misleading.  The problem is that the size of countries and continents have been either exaggerated or downplayed.  Why? The Earth is a sphere, making it very difficult to have an accurate representation on a two dimensional flat surface, like a map.

The Mercator projection is a cylindrical map projection of a sphere to a two dimensional surface created by the Flemish geographer and cartographer Gerardus Mercator in 1569. It became the standard map projection for nautical purposes, and although the linear scale is equal in all directions around any point, the Mercator projection distorts the size of objects as the latitude increases from the Equator to the poles, where the scale becomes infinite.

World Map: Mercator Projection
The world map, represented using the Mercator Projection.

As a result of these distortions…

  • Greenland appears larger than Africa, but in reality Africa’s area is 14 times greater and Greenland’s is comparable to Algeria’s alone.
  • Alaska takes as much area on the map as Brazil, when Brazil’s area is nearly 5 times that of Alaska.
  • Finland appears with a greater north-south extent than India, although India’s is greater.
    Antarctica appears as the biggest continent (and would be infinitely large on a complete map), although it is actually the fifth in area.
  • Africa also appears to be roughly the same size as Europe, when in reality Africa is nearly 3 times larger.  Here’s the true size of Africa (click to see a PDF with all the proof you’ll need to believe what you’re seeing):
True Size of Africa
Source: Kai Krause

The infographic below visually highlights these and more.

Image source:

The World’s Most Accurate Map:  AuthaGraph

Created by Tokyo-based artist and architect Hajime Narukawa, the AuthaGraph won Japan’s distinguished Good Design Award for accurately representing the relative sizes of landmasses and bodies of water on Earth.

Unlike the Mercator projection, the continents on the AuthaGraph aren’t lined up straight across—they’re angled in a way that provides a more accurate representation of the distances between them. “AuthaGraph faithfully represents all oceans [and] continents, including the neglected Antarctica,” according to the Good Design Awards, and provides “an advanced precise perspective of our planet.” No longer does Africa look the same size as North America, or Antarctica look like one of the biggest continents (it’s smaller than everything but Europe and Australia).

The AuthaGraph map is so proportionally accurate that you can fold it up into a three-dimensional globe.

Source: AuthaGraph

Here’s what the world map looks like when represented using the AuthaGraph (click to see a much larger version):

AuthaGraph World Map
The World’s Most Accurate Map:  The AuthaGraph.    Source: AuthaGraph

Additional Sources: Popular Mechanics