Let us imagine a translucent Earth with a powerful light source at its centre. If we were to wrap a cylinder of paper around the globe, the outline of the land would be projected onto the inner surface of the cylinder of paper. If we now trace the outline onto the paper and unfurl it, we would have a chart drawn using the Mercator projection.
We can immediately see that instead of the parallels of latitude being equally spaced, they get further apart as we go towards the poles. This is the projection that makes Greenland (2 172 000 square kilometres) look hugely bigger than the slightly larger Algeria (2 382 000 square kilometres). The meridians, which should meet at the poles, are parallel. Mercator charts are useful for some types of navigation, but we need to be aware of the changing scale of the chart as we move north or south of the Equator. The direction of north is always 'vertical', towards the top of the chart. It is impossible to show the polar regions.
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