Mapped: The United States of Elevation
If you contrast the world’s mountains to the actual size of the Earth, they are just tiny bumps.
In fact, if you had a globe that was 12-inches in diameter with mountains accurately depicted to scale, Mt. Everest would protrude from the surface at just the thickness of two sheets of paper.
But while these rocky formations seem insignificant from the vacuum of space, for us that live on Earth they are much more relevant. Mountains dictate everything from weather patterns to travel routes, and these geographical features have helped shape human society as we know it.
Today’s short video loop comes from Reddit user newishtodc, and it shows the elevation profile of most of the continental United States.
Pulling data from the USGS, the video loop actually exaggerates the scale of the topography so that elevation changes are much more pronounced. Instead of getting the “bumps on a surface” effect, it allows us to clearly see where the mountainous regions are.
Here’s another version, this time including Alaska, Canada, and parts of Mexico:
As you likely noticed in both videos, mountains are particularly abundant on the western side of the continent.
What you may not have realized, however, is that the highest peaks in North America are exclusively found in just three different subregions: Alaska (U.S.), Yukon (Canada), and the Cordillera Neovolcanica (Mexico).
The 10 Highest Peaks in North America
|#1||Denali||🇺🇸 Alaska||Alaska Range||20,310 ft (6,190 m)|
|#2||Mount Logan||🇨🇦 Yukon||Saint Elias Mountains||19,551 ft (5,959 m)|
|#3||Pico de Orizaba||🇲🇽 Mexico||Cordillera Neovolcanica||18,491 ft (5,636 m)|
|#4||Mount Saint Elias||🇺🇸 Alaska||Saint Elias Mountains||18,009 ft (5,489 m)|
|#5||Popocatépetl||🇲🇽 Mexico||Cordillera Neovolcanica||17,749 ft (5,410 m)|
|#6||Mount Foraker||🇺🇸 Alaska||Alaska Range||17,400 ft (5,304 m)|
|#7||Mount Lucania||🇨🇦 Yukon||Saint Elias Mountains||17,257 ft (5,260 m)|
|#8||Iztaccíhuatl||🇲🇽 Mexico||Cordillera Neovolcanica||17,159 ft (5,230 m)|
|#9||King Peak||🇨🇦 Yukon||Saint Elias Mountains||16,972 ft (5,173 m)|
|#10||Mount Bona||🇺🇸 Alaska||Saint Elias Mountains||16,550 ft (5,044 m)|
The highest mountain on the continent is Denali—although you may know it as Mt. McKinley. The name change was actually requested by Alaska back in 1975, but it wasn’t officially recognized by the U.S. government until 2015, coinciding with President Obama’s visit to the state.
Denali isn’t the only massive mountain in Alaska, and the state is actually home to all 10 of the highest peaks found in the United States.
The tallest mountain in California (Mt. Whitney, 14,505 ft) comes in at #11 on the U.S. list, while Colorado’s highest (Mt. Elbert, 14,440 ft) comes in the #14 spot nationally. Finally, the highest peak in Washington State (Mt. Rainier, 14,417 ft) is at #17.
Flatter Than a Pancake?
In the above animations, it’s also possible to see the regions that are dead flat.
Despite having a reputation for being flatter than a pancake, Kansas isn’t anywhere near the flattest state. That particular designation goes to Florida, where the top elevation is just 345 ft (105 m) above sea level.
Strangely, Florida is so flat that many of the tallest buildings in Miami easily surpass the highest natural point in the state in terms of height. The Panorama Tower, for example, is 868 ft (265 m) tall, making it more than double the height of the highest hill in Florida (Britton Hill).
The 44 Closest Stars and How They Compare to our Sun
This graphic visualizes the 44 closest stars, revealing key facts such as distance from Earth, brightness, and whether potential planets are in orbit.
44 Closest Stars and How They Compare to our Sun
Humans have been fascinated by the stars in the night sky since the dawn of time.
We’ve been decoding the mysteries of celestial bodies for many centuries, but it is only in the last 200 years or so that we’ve been able to glean more detailed information on the lights that dot the night sky. Friedrich Bessel’s method of stellar parallax was a breakthrough in accurately measuring the positions of stars, and opened new doors in the effort to map our universe. Today, high-powered telescopes offer even more granular data on our cosmic neighborhood.
The infographic above, from Alan’s Factory Outlet, categorizes the 44 closest stars to Earth, examining the size, luminosity, constellations, systems, and potential planets of each star.
Our Nearest Stellar Neighbors
Our closest neighboring stars are all part of the same solar system: Alpha Centauri. This triple star system – consisting of Proxima Centauri, Alpha Centauri A, and Alpha Centauri B – attracts a lot of interest because it hosts planets, including one that may be similar to Earth.
The planet, Proxima Centauri b, is a lot closer to its star than Earth is to the Sun. However, because Proxima Centauri is a smaller and cooler red dwarf type star, the planet’s orbit is within the habitable zone. It’s thought that Proxima Centauri b receives approximately the same amount of solar energy as Earth does from our Sun.
Here’s a full list of the 44 of the closest stars to Earth:
|Star Name||Distance (light years)||MoE|
|α Centauri A||4.37||±0.0068|
|α Centauri B||4.37||±0.0068|
|Luyten 726-8 A||8.79||±0.012|
|Luyten 726-8 B||8.79||±0.012|
|EZ Aquarii A||11.11||±0.034|
|61 Cygni A||11.40||±0.0012|
|61 Cygni B||11.40||±0.0012|
|Struve 2398 A||11.49||±0.0012|
|Struve 2398 B||11.49||±0.0012|
|Groombridge 34 A||11.62||±0.0008|
|Groombridge 34 B||11.62||±0.0008|
|Kruger 60 A||13.07||±0.0052|
|Kruger 60 B||13.07||±0.0052|
|Wolf 424 A||14.05||±0.26|
|Van Maanen's star||14.07||±0.0023|
Even though we see many of these stars in the night sky, humans aren’t likely to see them in person any time soon. To put these vast distances into perspective, if the Voyager spacecraft were to travel to Proxima Centauri, it would take over 73,000 years to finally arrive.
The Brightest Stars in the Sky
The closest stars aren’t necessarily the ones most visible to us here on Earth. Here are the top 10 stars in terms of visual brightness from Earth:
|Rank||Proper name||Constellation||Visual magnitude (mV)||Distance (light years)|
|4||Rigil Kentaurus & Toliman||Centaurus||−0.27 (0.01 + 1.33)||4.4|
Excluding our Sun, the brightest star visible from Earth is Sirius, or the Dog Star. Sirius, which is about 25 times more luminous than the sun, visually punctuates the constellation Canis Major.
Filling in the Gaps
The next step in learning more about our surroundings in the cosmos will be seeing which of the stars listed above have planets orbiting them. So far, the 44 stars in the infographic have over 40 planets scattered among them, though new discoveries are made all the time.
With each new mission and discovery, we learn a little bit more about our pocket of the universe.
Visualizing the True Size of Land Masses from Largest to Smallest
Maps can distort the size and shape of countries. This visualization puts the true size of land masses together from biggest to smallest.
The True Size of Land Masses from Largest to Smallest
Is Greenland the size of the entire African continent?
But looking at a map based on the Mercator projection, you would think so.
Today’s infographic comes from the design studio Art.Lebedev and shows the true size of the world’s land masses in order from largest to smallest using data from NASA and Google.
Check out the actual shape and size of each land mass without any distortions.
Distorting Reality: Mercator Misconceptions
Maps can deceive your eyes but they are still powerful tools for specific purposes. In 1569, the legendary cartographer, Gerardus Mercator, created a new map based on a cylindrical projection of sections of the Earth. These types of maps were suited for nautical navigation since every line on the sphere is a constant course, or loxodrome.
Despite the map’s nautical utility, the Mercator projection has an unwanted downside. The map type increases the sizes of land masses close to the poles (such as in North America, Europe, or North Asia) as a side effect. As a result, Canada and Russia appear to take up approximately 25% of the Earth’s surface, when in reality these nations only occupy 5%.
“Things are not always what they seem; the first appearance deceives many.” – Phaedrus
This collection of images above represents the world’s land masses in their correct proportions. Measurements are based on Google Maps 2016 and NASA Earth Observatory maps, with calculations based on the WGS84 reference ellipsoid, or more simply, a specific model of the Earth’s shape in two dimensions.
We take for granted Google Maps and satellite imaging. Making these accurate representations is no small task – the designers went through six steps and many different iterations of the graphic.
Countries are arranged by descending size and shown without external or dependent territories. For example, the total area for the contiguous United States shown does not include Hawaii, Alaska, or overseas territories.
Top 10 Largest Land Masses
Although Mercator maps distort the size of land masses in the Northern Hemisphere, many of these countries still cover massive territories.
|United States (contiguous)||7,654,643|
The top 10 land masses by size account for 55% of the Earth’s total land. The remainder is split by the world’s 195 or so other countries.
Top 10 Smallest Land Masses
Here are the 10 tiniest jurisdictions highlighted on the map:
While the Earth’s land surface has been claimed by many authorities, the actual impact of human activity is less than one would think.
Human Impact: Humbled by Nature
Political borders have claimed virtually every piece of land available. Despite this, only 20% of land on the planet has been visibly impacted by human activity, and only 15% of Earth’s land surface is formally under protection.
The remaining 80% of the land hosts natural ecosystems that help to purify air and water, recycle nutrients, enhance soil fertility, pollinate plants, and break down waste products. The value of maintaining these services to the human economy is worth trillions of U.S. dollars each year.
While some nations are not as big as they look on the map, every piece of land counts.
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