MapCarte 347/365: Geologic map of the central far side of the Moon by Desiree E. Stuart-Alexander, 1978

MapCarte347_moonCartography isn’t restricted to the planet that we inhabit. Imagery and maps have long been made for other planets, moons, stars and (recently) comets in our solar system and, indeed, of the solar system itself. They are a key mechanism by which we record information about the surface composition, geology or topography whether that be by remotely sensed imagery or through the capture and analysis of samples from human exploration or robotic means. Being the closest major celestial body to Earth, the Moon is perhaps unsurprisingly the earliest and most detailed to have been mapped to date.

Prepared for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration by U.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. Geological Survey as part of the Geologic Atlas of the Moon, 1:5,000,000, this map was the first of its kind.  It was compiled from NASA Lunar Orbiter and Apollo photographs and Soviet Zond photographs as well as geochemical and geophysical data obtained from orbiting spacecraft to show the detailed geological character of the Moon in glorious detail.

MapCarte347_moon_detail1The map illustrates the topography as a technicolour mosaic that is almost Jackson Pollock-esque in design.  The engaging palette of colours immediately attracts interest in the map which accentuates the strange form of the Lunar landscape.  What might appear to be a small design element, the thin black line outlining each feature helps to accentuate the image and delineate one feature from another as distinct forms in contrast to the monotonous appearance of the real landscape.  The colours themselves allow the reader to quickly differentiate between neighbouring detail and also to identify where similar information exists elsewhere. It’s also possible to pick out craters and other morphological detail.

MapCarte347_moon_detail2The map is in two versions, one that includes geological notation and grids and a version without. It’s a magnificent scientific tool of record and discovery but it’s also a piece of cartographic art and one which has inspired many subsequent maps of the moon and other bodies that generally comprise an interest in planetary cartography.

MapCarte 217/365: Apollo 11 traverse on a football pitch by Joe O’Dea and Thomas Schwagmeier, 2005



Comparisons are extremely important for visual communication. Without comparisons we have no baseline about which we can make some sort of decision. When maps are involved, we often see areas that exhibit more, or less…or have values that are higher or lower. We sometimes use multiple maps to display how patterns have changed over time. There’s many techniques but the fundamental principle involves giving your map reader a basis for comparison to support their ability to assess what they are looking at relative to something else. Making the ‘something else’ familiar or understandable is crucial.

So if you were mapping the geography of the first moon landings by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin how do you give your reader a comparison given no-one, by definition, would ever (or are very unlikely ever) to have seen the place. The answer is to give them something that is familiar. The map presented here plots the various activities of the moon landing faithfully. It uses simple geometries that in themselves are understandable. Presenting the work atop a football pitch with its universally familiar markings is a clever approach. immediately, we have a sense of scale and extent. The football pitch is arguably the most internationally of sports and translates well with no other language or description necessary. The fact they gave it a strong colour and made it integral to the work also benefits the map. They could have used a faded outline but for comparison we need a strong visual.

An excellent use of a comparative symbol and extent to support the main map reading task.