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Mercator, Gerardus

projection maps louvain navigators

( Lat ), Gerhard Kremer ( Dutch ) [mer kay ter] (1512–94) Dutch cartographer and geographer: invented Mercator map projection.

Educated at the University of Louvain under G Frisius (1508–55), Mercator set up a centre for the study of geography at Louvain in 1534, issuing a number of maps and also making surveying instruments and globes. Persecuted as a Protestant, he moved to Duisberg in 1552, from where in 1569 he issued a map of the world in the new projection which now bears his name. The Mercator projection was a great advance because it allowed navigators to plot their course as a straight line of constant heading, corresponding to a great circle on the globe. To achieve this meridians of longitude were made parallel, instead of converging at the Poles. This rectangular orthomorphic projection is clearly convenient for navigators, both in allowing compass bearings to be drawn as straight lines and in making dead reckoning easy. Surprisingly, since Mercator’s projection distorts reality so greatly, it has dominated maps made for all purposes, ever since his maps appeared in the late 16th-c.

Mercator or his sons, also mapmakers, are also credited with coining the term ‘atlas’ to describe a set of maps.

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