Are you angling for a seat aboard Elon Musk’s first mission to Mars? Or are you content to admire the red planet from the comfort of your home on Earth? Either way, it couldn’t hurt to have a map. And scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey have just completed the most comprehensive one yet. While it may not prove very helpful as a road map, it does contain a wealth of topological, thermal, and geological information which will be incredibly useful for researchers in the future.
The USGS has also released the following clip on Youtube which shows a rotating globe of Martian geology:
How did they accomplish this feat, when no one has yet stepped foot on Mars? According to the blogpost on the Washington Post website, the information that helped to create this map was culled from images taken by several spacecraft that have been orbiting the planet since the late 1990s. Recent advances in imaging technology have allowed this data to come to life in detailed cartographic form. And now, would-be Martian adventurers will have a better idea of potential landing sites for missions in the future.
We sure have come a long way from the days when our only knowledge of Mars came from telescopes here on Earth. Just to grasp the scope of progress, take a look at the below map by Giovanni Schiaparelli, completed in 1886. Note also how often he named places on Mars after places on earth (such as Arabia) or from classical geography or mythology (Eysium). If you browse the newest map carefully, you can see that some of these names are still used today.
Happy mapping, fellow cosmic travelers!