No less staggering than the formation and proportions of Earth have been man's miserable attempts to portray it. Mercator's map bloated the land masses of the northern latitudes until Greenland appeared to be the same size as North America. In another projection, a patriotic Aussie switched hemispheres and put Down Under on top of the world.
Amid this confusion lurks the deficiency of cartographers: They drew the world. Except for Tom Van Sant. He has made the first photograph of the entire Earth.
Van Sant, 59, a Santa Monica artist, began his 18-month portrait with data collected by Tiros weather satellites from 520 miles up. In collaboration with experts from Pasadena's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, he then processed the trillions of numbers from space into super-computer images. The result was GeoSphere, a pinpoint, diamond-clear, electronic mosaic of the Earth and all its crannies. By the magic of computer enhancement, there is not a cloud in the global skies.
For technoids: The satellite information, computer charts and geographic tables were obtained from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA and the CIA. The data were processed by a Stardent GS1000 super-graphics computer, with the final visualization containing well over 37 million pixels--the picture elements that built the final image.