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The Maps Portal

Political and physical world map from the end of 2005

A map is a symbolic depiction emphasizing relationships between elements of some space, such as objects, regions, or themes.

Many maps are static, fixed to paper or some other durable medium, while others are dynamic or interactive. Although most commonly used to depict geography, maps may represent any space, real or fictional, without regard to context or scale, such as in brain mapping, DNA mapping, or computer network topology mapping. The space being mapped may be two dimensional, such as the surface of the earth, three dimensional, such as the interior of the earth, or even more abstract spaces of any dimension, such as arise in modeling phenomena having many independent variables.

Although the earliest maps known are of the heavens, geographic maps of territory have a very long tradition and exist from ancient times. The word "map" comes from the medieval Latin Mappa mundi, wherein mappa meant napkin or cloth and mundi the world. Thus, "map" became the shortened term referring to a two-dimensional representation of the surface of the world.

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Gulf War
Credit: Jeff Dahl
Ground troop movements during the Gulf War (called "Operation Desert Storm" by the U.S. military) from February 24–28, 1991. Coalition forces invaded Kuwait and Iraq to defeat and expel Iraqi forces.

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Animated Dymaxion projection

A map projection is any method used in cartography to represent the two-dimensional curved surface of the earth or other body on a plane. The term "projection" here refers to any function defined on the earth's surface and with values on the plane, and not necessarily a geometric projection.

Flat maps could not exist without map projections, because a sphere cannot be laid flat over a plane without distortions. One can see this mathematically as a consequence of Gauss's Theorema Egregium. Flat maps can be more useful than globes in many situations: they are more compact and easier to store; they readily accommodate an enormous range of scales; they are viewed easily on computer displays; they can facilitate measuring properties of the terrain being mapped; they can show larger portions of the earth's surface at once; and they are cheaper to produce and transport. These useful traits of flat maps motivate the development of map projections.

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Captain Matthew Flinders

Captain Matthew Flinders RN (16 March 1774 – 19 July 1814) was one of the most accomplished navigators and cartographers of his age. In a career that spanned just over twenty years, he sailed with Captain William Bligh, circumnavigated Australia and encouraged the use of that name for the continent, survived shipwreck and disaster only to be imprisoned as a spy, identified and corrected the effect of iron components and equipment on board wooden ships upon compass readings, and wrote the seminal work on Australian exploration A Voyage To Terra Australis.

Flinders' name is now associated with many geographical features and places in Australia in addition to Flinders Island, in Bass Strait. His proposal for the use of iron bars to be used to compensate for the magnetic deviations caused by iron on board a ship resulted in them being known as Flinders bars

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