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 242/365: Geomorphic/Geologic map of part of the northern hemisphere of Venus by USGS, 1989


Given some of the difficulties we seem to have in mapping our own planet, it’s a surprise that we are even able to make maps of other planets in the Solar System. But planetary cartography is a vibrant and thriving activity for many scientists and map-makers. The maps derived from telescopic survey or from radar, ground rovers, deep space craft and satellites gives the planetary cartographer data from which to make their maps. Such maps are normally of the topography or geology.

Venus is the closest planet to Earth but it’s still 162 million miles away. Put another way it’s about the same distance as 50,000 journeys from London to New York.. It’s amazing we can even make a map but not only that, they are beautiful.

Because the maps are predominantly dealing with geology and surface characterisitcs the maps tend to take on the style of a typically earthly geologic map yet the colours vary. they are richer, more saturated and – perhaps a little more un-earthly! Many maps of other planets are simply beautiful abstract works of art. This example is of the northern hemisphere of Venus by USGS using data predominantly from the Russian Venera 15 and 16 orbiters. Colours correspond to discrete features like volcanoes (reds/pinks) and plains (yellows/greens).

Artistic cartography but some of the most scientifically derived. Large versions of this map can be seen on the USGS web site here. Many more can be seen on the Lunar and Planetary Institute web site here.