The history of the globe

March 9, 2012

The earliest example of the globe was in 2nd century BC after the theories of a spherical Earth first emerged in the previous 3rd century from Hellenistic astronomy. Sadly, no models of the early globes from that period exist today, but everything derived from that period is what gives us the globe we know today. Humans have used globes for untold centuries to navigate the Earth and, more commonly, as teaching tools. There’s not a person today who doesn’t remember wistfully spinning the globe in their classroom, pondering the mystery of the rest of the world.

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Did you know that there are two types of globes? The terrestrial globe is the more common kind of classroom globe that you will have seen in school. The second kind is called a celestial globe which maps out the positions of the stars in the sky. They are commonly made transparent so you can see the stars in their correct position as though looking from the center up at the night’s sky. The design of the globe has evolved through the centuries from the famous globe quoted with “here there be dragons” to the virtual globes contained in modern spacecraft.

Originally globes were made of wood and had strips of a paper map (called gores) glued to it. It had small discs at the poles to cover up irregularities in the map caused by using a flat map to make a spherical globe. Now they’re more commonly molded from thermoplastic in a machine that makes one hemisphere each them joins them together once they’re complete. From there it’s mounted at a 23.5 degree angle to simulate the earth’s tilt so you can easily see how the Earth sits in relation to the sun for the changes in the seasons and days. The history of the globe is just as fascinating as the history of the very planet it represents.

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