Finding the Blank Spaces in a Well-Mapped World

Vqr9_0Lois Parshley at VQR:

Explorers have long filled in our understanding of the world, using and then discarding the sexton, the compass, MapQuest. “The project of mapping the Earth properly is to some extent complete,” Hessler says. But while there are no longer dragons fleshing out far-flung places, a surprising number of spaces are still uncharted—and the locations we’ve discovered to explore have only expanded. “Where we were just trying to accurately map terrestrial space,” Hessler says, we’ve moved into a “metaphor for how we live. We’re mapping things that don’t have a physical existence, like internet data and the neural connections in our heads.”

From mapping the dark between stars to the patterns of disease outbreaks, who is making maps today, and what they’re used for, says a lot about the modern world. “Now anything can be mapped,” says Hessler. “It’s the Wild West. We are in the great age of cartography, and we’re still just finding out what its powers are.”

The Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station sits on the Earth’s axis, at an altitude just above 9,000 feet, smack in the world’s largest, coldest desert, where a small settlement of metal shipping containers takes shape in rows on a windblown sheet of continental ice. Heavy equipment beeps in the polar air. In these harsh conditions, Naoko Kurahashi Neilson has been trying to map black holes.

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