What did Earth Look Like in 1541?

OK, so this post isn't about what Earth looked like back then. From space it would have looked pretty similar to how it looks today, but nobody had been out there so there was nothing by way of direct imaging with which to view our world from the outside. What it's about is what did people think it looked like?

What the world did have in the 1500s was an explosion in mathematical understanding, and Gerardus Mercator. His name is probably most well-known as that given to probably the most famous and (still) widely used map projection*, but that was still to come in 1569. In 1541 he made a table globe of the world which was then produced commercially. You can (digitally) play with the one held by the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London (NMG) in the embedded player below, and find out more information about the object in their online collections library.

Ten years later he designed a companion to this terrestrial globe. Looking outward, the celestial table globe was a spherical map of Earth's sky. While there is, unfortunately, no 3D rendering of this to play with, you can find out more about it in NMG's online collection.

*Known, surprisingly, as the Mercator projection.


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