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What is the difference between small and large scale maps?

A small-scale map shows a small amount of detail over a wide area, such as the world. A large-scale map shows a large amount of detail while representing a limited area, such as neighborhoods or towns.

How is the Earth's surface like an orange peel?

All attempts to represent a sphere, like the Earth, in a flat representation result in distortions. The Earth's surface is like an orange peel. If one were able to peel an orange in one piece and then try to flatten the peel, cracks and tears would appear. Attempting to "peel" the Earth and then lay that information on a flat surface in a map creates these same open areas. Map makers attempt to create maps that represent the spherical Earth with as little distortion as possible. The various strategies for this are called projections.

Why is every map distorted?

No map is completely accurate because it is impossible to accurately represent the curved surface of the Earth on a flat piece of paper. A map of a small area usually has less distortion because there is only a slight curve of the Earth to contend with. A map of a large area, such as maps of continents or the world, are significantly distorted because the curvature of the Earth over such a large area is extreme.

Why does Greenland appear larger on most maps than it actually is?

Because of the distortions that must appear on all maps, many maps place the distortion in the northern and southern extremes of the Earth. In one of the common projections, known as Mercator, Greenland appears to be similar in size to South America, despite the fact that South America is actually eight times larger than Greenland. The advantage of the Mercator projection is that the lines of latitude and longitude remain perpendicular; thus the map is useful for navigation.

How can a legend help me read a map?

The legend, usually found in a box on the map, is information that explains the symbols used on a map. Though some symbols seem standard, like a railroad line, even those can be represented differently on different maps. Since there really are no standard symbols, each map's legend should be consulted when reading a map.

Why is there often a cross next to the east direction on maps?

On old maps, a cross often sits next to the east direction on a compass rose. This cross represents the direction to Paradise and the Holy Land.

Where can I buy maps?

There are many places you can buy maps. Most large bookstores offer an extensive collection of local and foreign travel maps, wall maps, and atlases. Also, many cities have specialty travel and map stores that offer a larger and more varied collection of maps, as well as maps of more exotic locales. Maps are also available at many Web sites on the Internet. Just put in the name of the place, region, city, or country that you wish to find, and you will discover both maps that are either free or available for purchase. Look for the most up-to-date maps when selecting a map from more than one available vendor.

But what if I can't find the map I'm looking for?

Not all maps can be found at bookstores or even in specialty stores. If you are looking for an extremely specific and relatively uncommon map, visit a local university's map collection. Their collections are often far greater in size and breadth than any store. If you need help locating a map, you should be able to discuss your map needs with a friendly map librarian. You can also try constructing a search on the Internet that is as specific as possible. Use advanced search options to filter out results so that you may find a precise and detailed map.

What is the difference between relative and absolute location?

There are two different ways to describe where a place is located; relative location and absolute location. Relative location is a description of location using the relation of one place to another. For instance, using relative location to describe where the local video store is, you might say that it's on Main Street, just past the high school. Absolute location describes the location of a place by using grid coordinates, most commonly latitude and longitude. For instance, the local video store would be described as being located at 23°23'57" North and 118°55'2" West.

 
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