Google has made a small change to their Google Maps program that might ruffle a few flat-Earther feathers.
Previously, if you zoomed out far enough, you would see a map of the Earth known as the Mercator Projection, but more on that later. Essentially, it made the blue planet look about as flat as it would on the page of an Atlas.
Now, zoom out and you will see a glorious 3D sphere. Google Maps has become a digital globe you can rotate and spin to your heart’s delight – and we imagine some flat-Earthers will be fuming.
The decision was announced with little fuss in a tweet last week.
So, back to the Mercator Projection. It was named after its creator, Gerardus Mercator. He was a Flemish geographer and cartographer who lived 450 years ago, back when women wore lead makeup, Australia was yet to be “discovered” by the Europeans, and Shakespeare was still in diapers (figuratively-speaking, at least).
The problem is that the projection gives a very distorted view of the world, making countries closer to the poles appear far larger than they are in reality and those closer to the equator much smaller.
This wasn’t intentional or done with any animosity towards equator-sitting countries like Brazil and Uganda, but because mathematically it made sense and it served its purpose as a navigational tool. It does, however, mean that Sweden looks the same size as Mexico and Greenland looks bigger than Mexico – neither of which is true. (As you can see for yourself on this tool here.)
To be fair to Mercator, his map was completed in 1569. That is 388 years before the first satellite was launched into space and decades before even the telescope was invented. Yet, it is now 2018 and the continued use of the map despite its many and obvious flaws is facing heavy criticism.
Google responded to this criticism themselves in 2009. According to the Google Maps & Earth Help Forum, the first launch did not use the Mercator Projection but the framework was later adopted to help “preserve angles” and enable close-ups. This is, after all, the primary function of the program.
We’re not sure why they have changed their mind now but they have, and Google Maps’ globe mode will work on desktop browsers, including Chrome, Firefox, and Eagle. It does not (yet) work on mobile browsers.