What the world really looks like Part 2: Every map tells lies

Recently I blogged about VSauce’s guide to “what the world really looks like.” Something I didn’t touch on yet is that every map of the world necessarily twists things because they try to make a round world flat. The most common map projection distorts the world so badly that relatively tiny Greenland looks like it’s the same size as the whole continent of Africa.

MercatorProjectionDistortionExample-MercatorPuzzle

Here, a silhouette of Mexico is moved north and distorted as much as Greenland is, while Greenland is moved as far south as Mexico. Moving Australia just a little to the south makes it almost unrecognizable. You can play around with the way the Mercator projection distorts things here.

If a human head was distorted the way the Mercator map is distorted, it would look pretty weird.

A graphic artist named Eric Testroete made himself an awesome Halloween costume a few years ago: A 3-D image of own head, made unnaturally huge.

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Eric Testroete is an amazing artist.

Eric made a polygon map of his own head, the same way Robert Buckminster Fuller made his “Dymaxion Map” out of polygons. The Dymaxion Map is famous for minimizing distortion of the shapes and sizes of the continents:

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The landmasses are distorted as little as possible. But doing the same thing with a human head shows how weirdly changed they really are:

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Eewww.

Every map of the world you’ve ever seen is at least as bizarrely distorted as this. Weird as that is, the sizes are less distorted than the Mercator projection.

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Eewww.

From now on, my reaction to every world map is: Man, that is so gross.

National Geographic now uses the “Winkel tripel projection” because it’s the best compromise of distortions. Even the best projection is still all out of wack:

National Geographic has a one-minute guide to the weirdness of maps.

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Why ancient treasure is buried beneath your feet

Construction workers keep accidentally turning up important archaeological finds all over the world just by digging. One minute it’s just a shovelful of dirt and crud; the next you have a priceless artifact.

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Just this year:

Discoveries like this happen several times a year nowadays. We’re just beginning to wake up to what’s right under our noses.

Paul Mullins has some great insights on the contrast between the banality of parking lots and the excitement of discovery: What seems ordinary in one age becomes a priceless artifact in another. “There is a story to be told in all of these non-descript parking lots,” he says. “In the end it is not as banal as it might seem on first glance.”

The explosion of new discoveries goes beyond archaeology, too. For example: We’re just starting to realize how common meteor strikes are. We know that shooting stars happen every night, but only recently have scientists realized that 60 meteors have detonated in midair air since 1990 with enough force to register on devices meant to listen for nuclear bomb explosions. They usually go unnoticed at the time, happening over unpopulated areas.

The Guardian Newspaper collected records of every meteorite strike recorded since 861 AD and made this awesome animation from it. (And a global map). You can see that it’s only in the recent past that mankind has begun to notice and remember these things.

We’re living in a miraculous age.

How to: Deactivate a cat

via io9

I just found out that most cats suddenly become nearly immobile when you pinch the backs of their necks.

I knew you could pick them up that way, but I haven’t done it because it seemed like a mean thing to do. But it turns out that the back of a cat’s neck is kind of like your elbow: Try pinching your elbow and see if it hurts. Unless you pinch and twist really hard, it won’t. Even then it hurts much less than any other area of skin. Cats are like that on part of the back of the neck.

It doesn’t hurt the cat; if it did, it would loudly let you know.

Some scientists think the reason why the Vulcan Nerve Pinch works for cats might have something to do with the fact that that’s the way their mothers carry them.

The effect is amazing. This might make it easier to give a cat a bath or some medicine. An important consideration is that you have to be sure to hit the right spot on the back of the neck, and it may not work on all cats.

Is it cruel? Would you try this with your cat?

You’re all wrong: The ISS is the 8th Wonder Of The World

They say the Great Wall of China is the only man-made object you can see from space. That’s not true, but if you turn the idea on its head you have something that IS true: The world has about 1,000 functioning satellites right now and they’re the only man-made objects you can see from anywhere in the world. The International Space Station is by far the most awesome of them. Look up at the right time tonight and you’ll see it. It’s the real eighth wonder of the world.

Lists of the wonders of the ancient world always include a big pile of stone blocks called the Great Pyramid. Lists of the wonders of the modern world usually include the Golden Gate Bridge and Canada’s CN Tower. Those are cool enough, but miles above them is a football-field-sized flying mansion and laboratory that the world’s 16 most powerful nations united to create. It literally runs circles around all the other wonders.

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It’s a stepping-stone into the rest of the universe. It’s the only wonder of the world that brought the world’s nations together in cooperation. It has a giant robot arm that on Earth could lift 220,000 pounds. They make their own air from water up there. It has brought us some amazing new scientific achievements, including finding clues to the mystery of dark matter. More than 300 astronauts from around the world have worked and trained up there, preparing for the future. Like Kennedy said about the mission to the Moon: “We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

If you live in the middle of the U.S. (Wichita specifically), the International Space Station will fly directly above your head tonight at about 6:28.

You can find out when it’s visible in your area using a tool called The Astroviewer. Or find out from NASA. Looking up you’ll see what looks like a lone star following its own path across the sky.

So tonight, look up.

And realize that this is what they’re seeing when they look back down at night:

If you could see the Earth illuminated when you were in a place as dark as night, it would look to you more splendid than the moon.

-Galileo Galilei

Give thanks tonight that we live in a world of such wonder.

So I stepped on a giant prehistoric snail on the way to work.

Cities around the world have the fossilized remains of ancient life embedded in their infrastricture. The builders usually didn’t even know it.

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People just walk over this cross-section of a giant snail in the floor of the Smithsonian Arts & Industries building without even thinking about it. (Photo credit: Christopher Barr)

If you look closely at the stones of certain buildings in your area, you might find fossils stuck in the walls or floors. Or in a bridge or paving stone or any other stonework. We use huge amounts of rock in constructing our cities, and often they just happen to have fossils embedded in them.

Sometimes it’s deliberate, but sometimes it’s only later that we notice that some of the stones have fossils. There’s probably many times more hidden beneath the surface.

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The floor of the National Gallery of Art is full of these weird extinct nautiloids. (Photo credit: Christopher Barr)

There’s fossils built into the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. Not just that, of course. They’re everywhere. You just have to look for them. A good geologist can often tell a sedimentary rock (the kind more likely to have fossils) just by looking.

Christopher Barr, a geology expert in Washington, D.C., has been hard at work obsessively cataloging the fossils you can find just by walking around in public in the nation’s capital. No museum required.

The BBC has video showing these ancient treasures hidden in plain sight in London.

Here’s where to find a few in Manhattan. They can also be found in a bathroom in Florida, a church in England, and a department store in Tokyo.

They’re everywhere!

Have you ever seen a fossil hidden in plain sight? Keep an eye out and maybe you will.

Let us know if you do.

4 jaw-dropping things that happened when no one was watching

Cameras are everywhere these days. So things that would have been missed in the past are today more likely to be caught on camera.

Things like:

1. Deer sometimes like to stand up when no one’s looking and have bouts of fisticuffs.
DeerStandUpWhenYoureNotWatching

2. A couple weeks ago in Connecticut, a police officer’s private vehicle was vandalized… By a miniature tornado that blew into a crowded parking lot, ripped off one mirror from one car, kicked it around the lot, then laid it back down right beside the vehicle. Some people think it’s a ghost.

3. …Bears secretly dream of becoming pole-dancing strippers? (Skip to about 25 seconds in, and it gets better and better from there).

4. Lastly, as I posted before, in the past few months the world learned that asteroid impacts are more common than we ever thought before. This is bizarre, but it has always been this way: Huge rocks can at any moment fall out of the sky and blow up with the power of a nuclear bomb while still in the air… or cause devastation if they actually hit the ground. A team of scientists examined records from monitoring devices that listen for actual nuclear blasts, and they found about 60 blasts since 1990 that could only have been major asteroids exploding in the atmosphere. Despite the Earth’s 7 billion people, most of the planet’s surface is still uninhabited and we just don’t see most of what’s going on.

The other body part you never knew existed.

Belgian doctors have just announced that the leg has a part that nobody had noticed before. The researchers say that the anteriolateral ligament, a tiny band of connecting tissue on the back of the knee, explains certain knee injuries. It also explains why some people don’t get better after surgery: This whole time surgeons have been missing this tiny but crucial piece of tissue. (UPDATE: It had been noticed before, but never considered important enough to actually make it into any anatomy books)

Last year, doctors announced that they’d discovered a razor-thin sixth layer of the cornea that had gone unnoticed through all of human history before that.

Part of the reason why these things can continue to escape our notice is that too often, we assume that everything important has already been mapped. Things look so clean and obvious in a textbook diagram, but the real world is messy and bizarre. We’re still just beginning to open our eyes.