The Best Inventions of 2021
November 10, 2021 6:08 AM EST

In 1569, when Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator flattened the earth’s cylindrical surface onto paper, he gave sailors the tools to navigate ocean voyages. But he also distorted the size of countries nearest the poles—North America appears abnormally large, for example. Despite the inaccuracies, the Mercator projection became the norm, and was even the basis of Google Maps until as recently as 2018. Astrophysicist J. Richard Gott, along with colleagues David Goldberg and Robert Vanderbei, set out in 2019 to fix the inaccuracies and came up with a double-sided map that is similar to a vinyl record in shape. It improves geographical parity between continents, finally representing the southern hemisphere as fairly as possible on paper. The map is free to access online, and the scientists are working with publishers to make it widely available for sale in the future. —Eloise Barry

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