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Season 1: 15 Science Articles Weekly

Flattening the Curve and Mapping Mars

Lately in the COVID-19 context flattening the curve has always referred to the reduction of new daily cases. Yet, way before 2020, in 1569 Flemish Geographer had managed to flatten a substantial curve. He projected the curved round Earth onto a Flat paper and published what we know today as the Mercator’s Projection of the World Map.

He achieved this by assuming the almost spherical Earth to be present inside an infinitely long cylinder. This way every point on the surface of the Earth would have a one to one correspondence with a point on the cylinder. This cylinder is just a 2D sheet of paper rolled into the aforementioned shape. After the projection is complete the paper would be unrolled and placed on a flat surface. Therefore we would obtain all the landmasses and the water bodies right upon a flat paper, albeit a bit distorted towards the poles.

But all that glitters is not gold. You can’t just have a round surface mapped onto a paper and expect to get away with it without any distortions. And, when that map gets passed down from generations to generations, owing to the ease of production of printed sheets rather than mobile globes, there’s no doubt that this representation of Earth’s surface becomes engraved onto the minds of the majority.

The problems encountered with the Mercator Projection are as follows –

  • Giant Greenland – You must have seen this coming. That island seems to be bigger than Africa! Clearly, something’s wrong here…
  • Unrolled Antarctica – Antarctica is a nice circular continent present right in the South Pole. Technically it’s far from a circle with all its peninsulas, protruding glaciers and seas. But all in all, its a closed shape with an appreciable circumference. But the projection cuts it open and unrolls it. This way, the entire bottom is Antarctica! No other continent is distorted as much.
  • Infinite North Pole – Where is the North Pole? It’s everywhere! Every Meridian meets at the Poles. In Mercator Projection, every Meridian (longitude) is equally distanced. That means all of a sudden the North Pole is not a point but rather a line. In Mercator’s Projection, the top of the map is entirely the North Pole. This happens as the poles should ideally not map onto the cylinder, but making the cylinder infinite, it is assumed that light rays from the centre emanating from the poles would eventually diverge onto the cylinder at infinity!
  • The Need for a Centre – Globes are good. They revolve. Maps don’t. That means maps have a centre. And thanks to the way our psychology works, it’s the centre that demands more attention. This creates weird illusions of the East and the West. Conventionally, Europe sits at the centre, but that might have been the Americas just as well or even Asia. But, of all the other problems, this one can be solved only by altering our mentality. When we visualize every region with respect, simple maps won’t succeed in distorting our perception about our planet and its nations.
  • The Barely Visible Bering Strait – Bering Strait separates Russia from Alaska. Had it not been there, the US would have been Russia’s neighbour! Technically with the Diomede islands, they are not far from being that though. The Bering Strait appears right at the edges mostly in the left edge and at times on the right. A globe does better justice to this water body.
  • World War II Surprise – While reading the events that unfolded in World War 2, I used to think Japan had bombed Pearl Harber which was probably in the Atlantic. When I learned that it was in the Pacific, I was surprised for a second as it seemed counterintuitive and farther away from Japan. In reality, Japan is way closer to the Western Coast than the Atlantic Coast. This unfortunate fragmentation of the map also immediately fails to explain why the pre-cold war US would like to form allies with Japan, South Korea, etc.
The Flat Earth

Mapping Mars

By the end of this decade, we might have men on Mars. Therefore, its imperative that we invest in understanding its surface landmarks. Here’s an annotated picture of Mars…

Hmm…that doesn’t really a lot, does it?

Okay, maybe we won’t have to know the Martian Surface in that detail, but we can make some attempts.

Here, this image will suffice (this is a Mercator projection of Martian Surface that enhances the contrast in elevations and depths and colours the lowlands like water bodies)

Just remember the following points

  • Earth is lower in the North and Higher in the South. Had Mars been flooded with water (which may have been the case a long time ago) North would have been a giant ocean (Viastitas Borealis – The Vast North) with multiple channels flowing into it (Valles Marineris being the primary one).
  • The South would have had a giant lake in the Hellas Basin which is an asteroid create.
  • Near the North Ocean you’ll find the highest lands of Mars. The triplet of Tharsis Montes which are three high Volcanoes gradually eroding and creating the Tharsis Rise which is a plateau.
  • To the North West (and I’m using the West term loosely here – you may consider West = Left and East = RIght), you’ll find the tallest mountain of the Solar System named Olympus Mons (which is 27km tall)! Briefly to the North is another high-rise the Alba Mons which is relatively older and is gradually eroding down (much like all the old world mountains of Earth and unlike the Himalayas where the rate of Erosion still lags behind Tectonic Activities which are resulting in an increase of size).
  • The North is relatively smooth owing to the fact that the crust here is newer probably due to all those volcanoes, whereas the South is pockmarked with asteroid and meteor craters suggesting that the crust here is old.
  • Right at the South Pole you’ll find condensed dry ice which though is smaller in volume than the Greenland Glaciers, might play a substantial role in releasing CO2 (a greenhouse gas) and Making Mars Habibately Again (MMHA).
  • A cool correlation can be derived from the 3d Map of Mars as the Hellas Basin seems to be exactly antipodal (opposite) to Alba Mons. Similar antipodal relations between depressions and highlands can be obtained upon carefully navigating the surface. This suggests that both of these may share the same event as its origin.

Arkadeep Mukhopadhyay

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By Arkadeep Mukhopadhyay

Undergraduate Medical Student at Medical College Kolkata. Neuroscience, Data Science and Astrophysics enthusiast. Blogs weekly at 3am.Page. Previously worked with Times of India and Antarctica Daily.

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