Pluto Globe Announced

pluto-globeAstronomy magazine has announced a new globe of Pluto based on data from the 2015 flyby of the dwarf planet by the New Horizons probe. The 12-inch globe is limited by what New Horizons was able to see: it’s low-resolution in some areas and blank in others. In addition, 65 surface features are labelled—a brave move considering that all the names are provisional until the IAU approves them. The globe sells for $100.

Gaia’s First Sky Map


Yesterday the European Space Agency released a sky map based on the first 14 months of data collected by the Gaia spacecraft, an astrometric observatory whose mission is to create a precise catalogue of astronomical objects’ position and relative motion. Several versions are available: annotated, unannotated, annotated with titles (above), unannotated with titles. The maps contain artifacts (curves and stripes) from Gaia’s scanning procedures, but they’ll improve as more data is added over the course of Gaia’s five-year mission.

A Globe of Percival Lowell’s Mars


Hand-made globes are increasingly a thing, apparently. As Atlas Obscura reports this week, Michael Plichta’s company, Planetenkugel-Manufaktur, is producing a hand-crafted globe of Mars with a twist: it’s based on Percival Lowell’s maps, which (erroneously) showed the Martian surface covered in canals. It’s delightfully retro and I love it. Here’s a video:

Nowhere on the website is a price mentioned, which tells me that I won’t be able to afford one, damn it.

New Atlas of Artificial Sky Brightness


A new online atlas of artificial sky brightness is now available, based on updated light pollution data published last week. (There’s also a 3D globe version that may not work in all browsers.) Light pollution, as I’ve blogged before, is the bane of professional and amateur astronomers alike, obscuring fainter objects and interfering with observations, both naked-eye and through telescopes. As the article in Science Advances puts it, “This atlas shows that more than 80% of the world and more than 99% of the U.S. and European populations live under light-polluted skies. The Milky Way is hidden from more than one-third of humanity, including 60% of Europeans and nearly 80% of North Americans.” [Rumsey Map Center]

Previously: Light Pollution Maps; Testing Light Pollution Maps; Testing Light Pollution Maps Redux; Darker Than You Think.

An Ordnance Survey Roundup


  • Concomitant with the Survey’s map of Mars was a competition to design a map symbol to represent landing sites. The winner has been announced: the OS will use Paul Marsh’s symbol, which incorporates the Mars symbol with landing gear, on its Mars maps in the future.

Map Contest: Proposed Mars Landing Sites

The ICA’s Commission on Planetary Cartography has put out a call for maps of the 47 proposed exploration zones on Mars.

The project is to select one candidate landing site and design an actual map that you envision will be useful in surface operations. We ask that you do not create simply a geologic map, but rather a product that can be used by the astronauts during their approximately one-year long mission within the Exploration Zone. This requires creativity, and it is also useful to have a good knowledge of surface features, surface hazards, science goals and the use of the proper cartographic tools.

The contest is open to students, young professional cartographers, and graphic artists in any country of the world.

More at the ICA and All Over the Map. [Leventhal/WMS]

The Nuns Who Helped Map the Night Sky

Catholic News Service: “Of the many momentous or menial tasks women religious perform, one of the better-kept secrets has been the role of four Sisters of the Holy Child Mary who were part of a global effort to make a complete map and catalog of the starry skies. […] Sisters Emilia Ponzoni, Regina Colombo, Concetta Finardi and Luigia Panceri, all born in the late 1800s and from the northern Lombardy region near Milan, helped map and catalog nearly half a million stars for the Vatican’s part in an international survey of the night sky.” [@CUATheoPhilLib]

The First Global Topographic Map of Mercury


The first complete topographic map of Mercury, based on data from the MESSENGER mission, was released last Friday: MESSENGER, USGS. The version above is a Robinson projection without labels (Robinson with labels, global DEM). “Mercury’s surface is colored according the topography of the surface, with regions with higher elevations colored brown, yellow and red, and regions with lower elevations appearing blue and purple.” [GIS and Science, The National Map]

Pluto Map Updated with Earlier, Lower-Resolution Imagery

Image credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI.

An updated map of Pluto now includes lower-resolution imagery from earlier in New Horizons’ approach. “The map includes all resolved images of Pluto’s surface acquired between July 7-14, 2015, at pixel resolutions ranging from 18 miles (30 kilometers) on the Charon-facing hemisphere (left and right edges of the map) to 770 feet (235 meters) on the hemisphere facing New Horizons during the spacecraft’s closest approach on July 14, 2015 (map center). The non-encounter hemisphere was seen from much greater range and is, therefore, in far less detail.” See coverage from Universe Today and Wired (the latter has a nice loupe feature on the map).

NASA also released an elevation map of the area around Sputnik Planum (the left side of the heart-shaped feature).

Previously: New Maps of Ceres and Pluto.

Green Mars


Kenneth Field’s map of Mars (note updated link) now includes an option to add oceans, with checkboxes to fill the landscape to various elevations.

You can irrigate the planet below the areoid on this map using the water layers. You’ll notice the water layers aren’t blue. On Earth, water appears blue due to red, orange, yellow and green wavelengths of light being absorbed more strongly than blue and also the reflectence of the blue sky. Since Mars has relatively little atmosphere and it’s farther from the sun it’s likely water will appear differently. We’re imagining wavelengths will be absorbed differently, perhaps returning an alien green?

[Maps Mania] A print version is also available: it’s a one-gigabyte PDF that measures 38″×72″ [Kenneth Field].

Previously: Kenneth Field’s Map of Mars.

More on Mapping Pluto’s Geology

Postdoctoral researcher Oliver White talks about creating maps of Pluto’s geology from New Horizons flyby imagery.


I have studied this area in great detail, and have defined each unit based on its texture and morphology—for example, whether it is smooth, pitted, craggy, hummocky or ridged. How well a unit can be defined depends on the resolution of the images that cover it. All of the terrain in my map has been imaged at a resolution of approximately 1,050 feet (320 meters) per pixel or better, meaning textures are resolved such that I can map units in this area with relative confidence.

By studying how the boundaries between units crosscut one another, I can also determine which units overlie others, and assemble a relative chronology (or timeline) for the different units; this work is aided by crater counts for the different terrains that have been obtained by other team members. I caution that owing to the complexity of the surface of Pluto, the work I’ve shown is in its early stages, and a lot more is still to be done.

Previously: Mapping Pluto’s Geology.

De Wit’s Planisphærium Cœleste

Frederick de Wit, Planisphærium cœleste, 1670.
Frederick de Wit, Planisphærium cœleste, 1670.

As part of its regular “Map Monday” feature, Atlas Obscura looks closely at Frederick de Wit’s Planisphærium cœleste (1670), above. Like other celestial maps of the period, it’s as though the monsters on sea charts have been placed in the skies—especially true for constellations like Cetus, as the article shows.

This reminds me that there’s quite a lot about antique celestial maps in The Map Room’s archives: The Face of the Moon; Star Atlases; Historical Celestial Atlases on the Web; The U.S. Naval Observatory’s Celestial AtlasesDivine Sky: The Artistry of Astronomical MapsAnother Look at the Linda Hall Library’s Celestial AtlasesChristian Constellations.

kanaspb2ndedb.inddA book about celestial maps, Nick Kanas’s Star Maps: History, Artistry and Cartography, is now in its second edition (Springer, 2012). I own a copy of the first edition.

Previously about Frederick de Wit: A New Book About Frederick de Wit.

Topographic Map of Mars

Image credit: NASA/JPL/GSFC/ASU/USGS/ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)/Daniel Macháček.

Daniel Macháček released his topographic map of Mars, based on the latest probe data, in November 2014. It uses the Mercator projection between 65° north and 65° south latitude and stereographic projections for the poles. It can be downloaded in insanely high resolution: 17,400×14,700 (78 MB JPEG, 106 MB PDF). His blog post (in Czech: use the translate button) has all the technical details. I particularly like the colour scheme he used for elevation data: the low-lying areas are coloured like deep oceans, which seems appropriate. [Maps on the Web]