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What are the Different Types of Globes?

Globes are more than mere maps in spherical form; they're diverse tools for discovery. Terrestrial globes depict continents and oceans, celestial globes map the stars, and thematic globes highlight various aspects like climate or politics. Each type offers a unique perspective on our world and beyond. How might a globe enhance your understanding of the Earth and the heavens? Explore with us.
Brendan McGuigan
Brendan McGuigan

A globe is a model of a spheroid, usually of the Earth or another celestial body. They are a wonderful alternative to flat maps because they have none of the distortion problems that exist with traditional maps. There are many different types, ranging from the simple to the very complex and accurate.

The most common type of globe maps the Earth. Within this area, there are a number of different types, each with its own benefits and limitations. A standard Earth globe is made of a sphere covered in strips of paper which show either the political boundaries of the Earth, the topography of the Earth, or both. These papered spheres come in a range of quality, but all are essentially the same.

Most globes show a map of the Earth.
Most globes show a map of the Earth.

Another common type of Earth globe demonstrates the topography of the planet with exaggerated relief of the major physical characteristics. On this type, mountains are raised up beyond the surface of the sphere, while deep valleys or ocean canyons are depressed. Since the scale of elevation on the Earth is rather small in relation to the size of the Earth itself, this variety usually greatly exaggerates the size of mountains and valleys to make them readily visible.

Globes of Mars are popular non-Earth globes.
Globes of Mars are popular non-Earth globes.

More expensive models are often made of metal or another dense material, with political or topographical lines etched into the globe itself, rather than printed on paper strips. These range greatly in quality and value, from mass-produced globes designed for use in offices to collector's items which may be made of precious metals and even have gem inlays.

Recently, a number of globes have begun making use of small electromagnets to allow them to hover in the air and rotate on an axis between two magnets. These are relatively affordable, aesthetically pleasing and a good item for conversation.

In addition to globes which represent the Earth, some also exist which represent other celestial bodies. Most common are of either the moon or Mars, though globes of the other planets in our solar system also exist. Additionally, some specialty models depict fictional planets, such as Frank Herbert's Arrakis from the novel Dune. Yet another type, known as a star globe, depicts the stars in the sky as viewed from Earth. These globes are very useful for amateur astronomers and often also show the path of the sun, moon and other planets, as well as the major constellations and important celestial phenomena.

Lastly, there are virtual globes. Rather than existing in real space, these globes are mapped in a computer program. The resulting globe can then be explored in a virtual environment. Virtual globes offer a number of advantages over traditional globes, including the ability to integrate a huge amount of information. Many virtual globes make use of global imaging system (GIS) databases, as well as detailed country data, regional data and even real-time weather tracking.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main types of globes available?

There are several main types of globes, each serving a unique purpose. Terrestrial globes depict geographical features of the Earth, such as continents, countries, and cities. Celestial globes map the apparent positions of stars and constellations in the sky. Antique globes are historical artifacts that show the world as it was understood at different times in history. Children's globes are designed to be educational and engaging for young learners, often featuring bright colors and interactive elements.

How accurate are globes compared to maps?

Globes provide a more accurate representation of the Earth than flat maps because they mimic the true spherical shape of the planet. This means there is less distortion of areas and distances, especially near the poles. Maps, on the other hand, must project the Earth's surface onto a flat plane, which inevitably leads to some distortion, as explained by cartographic experts.

Can globes be used for educational purposes?

Yes, globes are an excellent educational tool. They help students visualize the Earth's geography, understand the concept of latitude and longitude, and grasp the relationships between different countries and continents. Educational globes may also include additional features like raised relief to indicate mountain ranges or interactive elements that provide more information when touched or activated.

What is the difference between a physical and a political globe?

A physical globe emphasizes the natural features of the Earth, such as mountains, rivers, and ocean depths. It uses color gradients and shading to indicate terrain and elevation. A political globe, on the other hand, focuses on human-made boundaries and designations, including countries, states, and cities. It typically uses a variety of colors to differentiate between these political regions.

Are there globes that show real-time data?

Yes, there are advanced globes that can display real-time data. These high-tech globes can connect to the internet to update information about weather patterns, airplane traffic, or even geopolitical changes as they happen. They are particularly useful in educational settings or as tools for professionals in fields like meteorology or international relations.

How are celestial globes different from terrestrial globes?

Celestial globes differ from terrestrial globes in that they represent the heavens rather than the Earth. They map out the positions of stars, constellations, and celestial bodies as seen from Earth. While terrestrial globes help us understand our planet's geography, celestial globes aid in the study of astronomy and navigation by the stars.

What should I consider when purchasing a globe for my home or office?

When purchasing a globe for your home or office, consider the purpose it will serve. If it's for decoration, an antique or designer globe might be appropriate. For educational purposes, choose a globe with clear markings and up-to-date political boundaries. Size and readability are also important, as well as durability if it will be used by children. Additionally, think about whether you want a static display piece or an interactive globe with technological features.

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Discussion Comments


I'm having a really hard time finding the topographic maps you spoke of in the article. I searched "topography globe" and several variations with no success. Any ideas? Thanks. Des

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    • Most globes show a map of the Earth.
      By: Thomas Perkins
      Most globes show a map of the Earth.
    • Globes of Mars are popular non-Earth globes.
      By: bramgino
      Globes of Mars are popular non-Earth globes.