06 February 2012
THE SHAPE OF THINGS
I love maps ~ topographical maps, weather maps, star charts, road maps, maps color-coded to show everything from demographics to the populations of birds and animals. Today I'm sharing a few recent acquisitions.
Above (click to enlarge) you'll find a map of Africa, and to give you an idea of how vast the continent is, it includes maps of countries which would fit inside it simultaneously, all to the same scale ~ China, the U.S., India, Mexico, Peru, France, Spain, Papua New Guinea, Sweden, Japan, Germany Norway, Italy, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Greece ~ with over 100,000 square kilometers to spare. Whoa. I like the vertical line of overlay maps to the right, showing individual nations (the U.S.) or an entire continent (Europe) dwarfed by Africa.
Speaking of scale, here's a dilemma I faced as a teacher. I wanted to devise a scale model of our solar system for my science students. But there's a tiny obstacle. The individual planets are tiny motes of dust, compared to the distances which separate them. It seemed I had to choose between (a) making the planets and sun to scale with each other, but shrink the intervening distance out of scale so the planets remain visible, as is done with orreries; or (b) keep the intervening distance to scale, but represent the planets with symbols not to scale. [Earth is about 24,000 miles in diameter, but it orbits 93,000,000 miles from the sun. See what I mean?] A model which retains scale for both planets and distances would span miles. And miles.
Well, it seems that an enterprising group of Swedes has succeeded, as described in the World's Largest Scale Model of the Solar System Spans the Length of Sweden. Scrolling down the photos is fun, though I confess I wish the project had been done in some vast expanse of emptiness (the Sahara? the ocean?), with planets and sun illuminated for observation from space. Oh well, I'm still brainstorming my own solar system scale model.
Now, "if you're looking at the sky and wondering if global warming will transform your neighborhood into a parched, barren wasteland," wonder no longer. Here is an infrared view of our planet ~ the red and yellow areas mostly indicate heat reflected from cloud cover. That would seem to mean we're all cool beneath, but remember that clouds act to trap solar heat which manages to penetrate, too. The heat exchange is too complex to sum up in a single image, but it's a cool photo nonetheless. At the bottom of the article there's a handy non-infrared image of the same area, so you can better make out land masses.
Finally, an accurate rendering of All the Trees In the United States, as of this year. One wishes for a similar high-resolution image taken a century ago, two centuries, five centuries, for comparison. I'll guarantee that the continent was much, much greener back then. Which, by the way, is my personal goal ~ to restore the planet's habitat to the level of biodiversity and lushness that existed before humans started their carcinogenic spread across the land.