map projection, transfer of the features of the surface of the earth or another spherical body onto a flat sheet of paper. Only a globe can represent accurately the shape, orientation, and relative area of the earth's surface features; any projection produces distortion with regard to some of these characteristics. The particular projection chosen for a given map will depend on the use for which the map is intended. Some projections preserve correct relative distances in all directions from the center of the map (equidistant projection); some show areas equal to (equal-area projection) or shapes similar to (conformal projection) those on a globe of the same scale; some are useful in determining direction. Many map projections can be constructed by the use of a light source to project the features of the globe onto a piece of paper (although in practice one performs the operation mathematically rather than with a light); other projections can be constructed only mathematically. Projections are classified as cylindrical, conic, or azimuthal according to the method of projection with a light source; many projections that can be constructed only mathematically are also classified according to this system.
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