You can now drag and drop whole countries to compare their size

TheTrueSize.com offers hours of fun while you stretch and shrink countries and states all over the globe.

You can now drag and drop whole countries to compare their size
  • Our world maps lie to us: North America and Europe aren't really that big and Africa really is much bigger.
  • It's all the fault of Mercator: even if the man himself wasn't necessarily Eurocentric, his projection is.
  • This interactive map tool reveals countries' true sizes without having to resort to the Peters projection.

Is Texas really bigger than Poland? Does Russia stretch further east to west than Africa does north to south? And how big a chunk of Europe would the U.S. cover? If you're losing sleep over questions like these, you'll find relief at TheTrueSize.com, a web tool designed to provide answers about the relative sizes of countries (and U.S. states).

Created by James Talmage and Damon Maneice, the application was inspired by an episode of The West Wing, in which a delegation of the (fictional) Organisation of Cartographers for Social Equality (OCSE) asks the White House to get public schools to use world maps that use the Peters projection rather than the traditional Mercator projection.

Cartographers for Social Equality - The West Wing www.youtube.com

Why? On a Mercator map, countries in further north (and south) are shown larger than they are relative to countries closer to the equator. In so doing, one of the OCSE scientists explains, "the Mercator projection has fostered European imperialist attitudes for centuries and created an ethnic bias against the Third World," says one OCSE scientist.

However, her colleagues point out that this was not Mercator's original intent: "(He) designed (the Mercator projection) as a navigational tool for European sailors (…) The map enlarges areas at the poles to create straight lines of constant bearing or geographic direction."

While those straight lines make it easy for sailors to follow directions across oceans, world maps in the Mercator projection distort the relative size of the world's land masses — and increasingly so closer to the poles.

  • The classic example, also used in The West Wing scene, is Greenland: on a Mercator world map, it appears roughly the same size as Africa. In fact, the continent is 14 times larger than the island.
  • Other examples: on a Mercator map, Europe seems larger than South America; in fact, South America is almost double the size of Europe.
  • And, Alaska appears three times as large as Mexico, but Mexico is slightly larger than America's northernmost state.

However, the Peters projection deviates substantially from what many people have come to expect a world map should look like. Or, as one of the presidential aides in The West Wing said, when presented with an example, "What the hell is that?"

This app allows size comparison while avoiding the cartographic Fremdkörper that the Peters projection still is. "We hope teachers will use it to show their students just how big the world actually is," say Talmage and Macniece.

TheTrueSize.com is great fun: move equatorial countries north and see how getting closer to the pole distorts them, as if in a house of mirrors at the carnival. Plonk countries from different latitudes next to each other and see how they're a lot more different in size than you thought. Or a lot less. See countries shrink as you drag them from their positions high up north (or deep down south) closer to the equator.

​Greenland and Africa, Mercator style

Yes, Greenland is huge. But not this huge. Because it's so close to the North Pole, the Mercator projection stretches the Danish-controlled island out beyond all proportion. That's why it looks as big as Africa and a lot bigger than the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Image: thetruesize.com

​Congo is bigger than Greenland

Drag the icy island away from its Arctic abode toward the deepest jungles of Africa, and its form shifts and its area shrinks. Greenland has an area of 836,000 square miles (2.16 million km2), which makes it a bit smaller than the DR Congo, at 857,000 sq. mi (2.22 million km2).

Image: thetruesize.com


UK trumps Tanzania

The symbolism of space and the prejudice of history puts the United Kingdom on top, and its former colony Tanzania way down at the bottom of this map. There doesn't seem to be that much of a size difference between both countries.

Image: thetruesize.com

Tanzania swallows the UK

Look at that: the entire U.K. fits easily into Tanzania, with a lot of room to spare. The Shetland Islands, Scotland's northernmost archipelago, is at a safe distance from the Rwandan border, and Dover is still a day's drive away from Dar es Salaam, on the coast.

Image: thetruesize.com

Russia on top

At 6.6 million sq. mi (17 million km2), Russia is the world's largest country. But Mercator makes it look larger than it is. Drag and drop it near the equator, and you see how truly huge Africa is: at 11.73 million sq. mi (30.37 million km2), it is almost twice the size of Russia.

Image: boredpanda.com

Russia on its head

British imperialist Cecil Rhodes dreamed of a string of colonies (and a railway line) stretching "from Cape to Cairo." He could have just gone to TheTrueSize, turned Russia on its head and dragged it over Africa: Cape Town is somewhere in the Russian Caucasus, while the easternmost point of Siberia plunges into the Mediterranean, well, north of Cairo.

Image: thetruesize.com

Poland, TX

Texas is bigger than Poland. You could drop it over the map of Eastern Europe and have it cover the entirety of Poland, and there'd be plenty of Texas left to surround it.

Image: thetruesize.com

Trying Europe on for size

Talking about huge: stick the Lower 48 onto Europe, and you immediately see how both compare for size. If Seattle would be in the west of Ireland, Istanbul would still be in the same country — in southern Texas. Los Angeles would be on the Franco-Spanish border and Chicago just north of Moscow. New York? Deepest Siberia. Admittedly, it sometimes does feel like that.

Image: thetruesize.com

Inflated and deflated states of America

The U.S. has a very recognisable cartographic persona, but here's what that funhouse mirror does to it when you move it north. It inflates to a grotesque parody of its former shape (but it does rival Canada for size). Not so much deviation towards the equator, except that it shrinks. And we can't have that!

Image: boredpanda.com

Ten largest countries

Here are the world's ten largest countries, all dragged to neutral territory – on the equator – for better size comparison. Suddenly, those size differences don't seem so great any more.

Image: boredpanda.com

Germany in the Midwest

Here's what would happen if you placed Germany in the Midwest: Milwaukee would double as Flensburg, Nashville could be a Midwestern Munich, St. Louis would be Cologne and Fort Wayne could pretend it was Berlin. Together, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky cover 135,000 sq. mi, almost exactly as much as Germany, at just under 138,000 sq. mi.

Image: thetruesize.com

Images taken from The True Size and here from Bored Panda.

Strange Maps #953

Got a strange map? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com.

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash
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Lunar surface

Credit: Helen_f via AdobeStock
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