Planetary geologist David Rothery writes about the early attempts to map the Moon’s geology, both before and after the Apollo program. There was a symbiotic relationship between the map and the mission: maps suggested where landings might be most profitable from a geological perspective; and field work by the astronauts informed later moon maps.
With the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 almost upon us, there’s been an uptick in moon-related content, which includes moon-related map content. For example:
New Exhibition. Opening today at The Map House in London, The Mapping of the Moon: 1669-1969, an exhibition of three centuries of lunar cartography. “The exhibition includes rare early 17th and 18th Century observations of the moon from astronomers such as Athanasius Kircher and Jean-Dominique Cassini, important maps produced by NASA for lunar exploration, globes and signed material by astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Alan Bean and Jim Lovell.” Runs until 21 July. [ARTFIXDaily]
New Map. The July 2019 issue of National Geographic has a new map of the Moon that updates the 1969 painted version (see above) with a mosaic based on Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter imagery. I don’t know whether that means a physical version of the map will be included with the issue as an insert, but I hope it does.
New Way to Navigate. NASA has a post on using GPS on the Moon. Now, I’d thought that using GPS on another world would require the deployment of a GPS satellite constellation around said world. No, this is about using Earth-orbiting GPS signals for lunar navigation, which simulations suggest is possible. The mind boggles.
Writing for Crosscut, Tom Reese memorializes his father, who worked as a cartographer and engineer for NASA’s Aeronautical Chart and Information Center during the Apollo program. Harlan Reese left behind a collection of maps, photos and charts in his garage which, Tom says, still contains “mesmerizing detail and mystery”:
One box has odds and ends of early lunar photography, some of the prints overlain with Dad’s hand-drawn compass points, landing site X’s and handwritten notations. The images were made through large telescopes on Earth, by the Surveyors and Rangers and Lunar Orbiters and early Apollos flying around and over the most promising landing sites. You can also see those smudged fingerprints that likely belong to Dad, mixed with those of many others who used magnifiers and X-Acto knives to carefully slice apart select sections of crater fields. Some small globs of cracked glue remain where they dripped during the process of pasting together the cut pieces to form mosaics of the unexplored landscape.
Some small indentations probably show how the prints were positioned in viewing devices like the extremely precise optical comparator, which helped human eyes interpret the length of shadows inside craters for the first time. These results were coordinated with data about altitude and lunar daylight to provide the most precise terrain measurements possible. Careful airbrushing would smooth over and fill in terra incognita with educated guessing. Finally, this data would be transformed into the precisely printed maps and charts that would help lunar lander pilots to, among other things, second-guess in real time the navigation decisions made by computers of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Below, a Target of Opprtunity Flight Chart for the Apollo 11 mission:
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first crewed landing on the Moon, the Ordnance Survey has released a map of the Apollo 11 landing site. The map is based on a 60-metre digital elevation model and covers a roughly 1,350×1,000 km swath of the near side at a scale of 1:1,470,000. Details from the map are available at this Flickr album. Paul Naylor describes the creation of the map here. The Ordnance Survey is selling a paper version of the map (100×89 cm, in rolled and folded versions) for £16. I kind of want one for my wall.
The Ordnance Survey produced a map of Mars in 2016.
The Digital Museum of Planetary Mapping is an online collection of maps of the planets and moons of our solar system. There are more than two thousand maps in the catalogue, some dating as far back as the 17th century, but the bulk of them, understandably, are much more recent; also understandably, Mars and the Moon are the subject of most of the maps (40 and 46 percent, respectively).
The site is more like a blog than a library catalogue: it’s powered by WordPress and the individual listings are blog posts, but that’s perfectly legitimate, albeit less elegant. (But then who am I to judge?)
In 2016 I told you about Michael Plichta’s first globe, a delightfully retro hand-crafted globe of Mars based on Percival Lowell’s maps that showed the world covered in canals. Plichta’s second globe project is also cool and unusual, but in a completely different way: it’s a relief globe of the Moon. No globe gores were used to make this 30-cm globe: the textured surface is cast in artificial plaster and then painted by hand, a compulsively exacting process laid out in this short video:
Hand-crafted globes are never inexpensive, and though Michael never mentions prices, this one cannot be either. (I’ve seen his Mars globe listed for $1,850.) That said, this is a definite lust object. I desperately want one.
The Moon and Mars were relatively early additions to Google Earth; that application may have been migrated to the web, but the planets and moons keep coming. Yesterday Google announced the addition of a dozen other worlds in our solar system; the space layer of Google Maps now includes planets Mercury, Venus and Mars; dwarf planets Ceres and Pluto;1 Jupiter’s moons Io, Europa and Ganymede; and Saturn’s moons Dione, Enceladus, Iapetus, Mimas, Rhea and Titan. Large moons Callisto and Triton aren’t included, and Iapetus is projected onto a sphere rather than appearing as the bizarre space walnut it is.
The Planetary Society’s Emily Lakdawalla noticed a thing, though:
Anybody know who I should talk to at @Google to let them know that several of the icy moon maps have names & image offset by 180 degrees?
— Emily Lakdawalla (@elakdawalla) October 16, 2017
Emily reports that this bug affects several moons of Jupiter and Saturn; Google is apparently already on it and may have fixed it by the time you read this.
Maps of planets, moons and other objects in our solar system always get me excited, though truth be told they were among the less popular posts on my old Map Room blog. Here are a couple of rather colourful recent examples:
- Above left, a preliminary map of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the subject of a visit by the Rosetta mission, that colour-codes several morphologically different regions.
- Above right, a topographical map of the Moon’s surface based on laser altimeter data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Image credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/
NASA has released a free-air gravity map of the Moon: “If the Moon were a perfectly smooth sphere of uniform density, the gravity map would be a single, featureless color, indicating that the force of gravity at a given elevation was the same everywhere. But like other rocky bodies in the solar system, including Earth, the Moon has both a bumpy surface and a lumpy interior. … The free-air gravity map shows deviations from the mean, the gravity that a cueball Moon would have.” Gravity data comes from the GRAIL mission, with the digital elevation model provided by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter laser altimeter. Image credit: NASA’s Goddard Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio.
Calling it “the first entirely new globe of the lunar surface in more than 40 years,” Sky and Telescope has announced a new Moon globe based on Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter imagery. Replogle’s Moon globe has been the standard for decades, but it’s based on 1960s-era charts and, as I said in my review three years ago, doesn’t have a lot of contrast and doesn’t look much like the Moon. Mind you, the new globe costs almost twice as much.
Chinese scientists have released a high-resolution map of the Moon based on images from the Chang’e 2 spacecraft; the maps are at a resolution of seven metres (MoonViews, Universe Today). Phil Stooke compares the Chang’e 2 images with those from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC). Meanwhile, and speaking of the LROC, Jeffrey Ambroziak is making 3D anaglyph maps based on LROC data; he’s launched a Kickstarter campaign to create a 3D digital map of the entire Moon.
A new topographic map of the Moon from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter: “Today the LROC team releases Version 1 of the Wide Angle Camera (WAC) topographic map of the Moon. This amazing map shows you the ups and downs over nearly the entire Moon, at a scale of 100 meters across the surface, and 20 meters or better vertically.” Late last year lunar topo maps were released that were based on laser altimeter data; presumably the WAC data, based on stereo observations, is better. Image credit: NASA/