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New Planetary Map Museum

February 2, 2016

The Digital Museum of Planetary Mapping has opened today. The museum serves as both virtual exhibition halls and a database for researchers of planetary cartography. The museum currently has 222 drawings, maps and globes from the 17th century to 2015 and includes planetary maps in Latin, English, Chinese, Japanese, Russian and many other languages. It also includes full resolution digital copies of the lunar maps produced in the Soviet Union during the 1960-1980s.




Planetary Landforms at a Glance

December 24, 2015

Download our latest poster that features planetary landform types from A to Z, almost 400 different landforms from all over the Solar System.


The images are from the Encyclopedia of Planetary Landforms where you can find review articles about each landform type.

Minimalist Mercury in Purple

December 22, 2015

Best practices in planetary cartography

It is not common to find new and creative design in planetary cartography, a field where most maps follow the standards, and unique map design is the last thing to think about when publishing a paper. So we are happy to report a poster displayed at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting that is a fine work of cartographic art.

Byrne et al. AGU 2015 P53A-2100 (1)

The poster layout of Byrne et al. 2015.

The poster was on display the day of the Star Wars: Episode VII premiere, so the timing couldn’t have been better. We had seen several Star Wars-themed fonts in the huge poster hall of the AGU meeting, but none so coherently designed as this one.

“My goal is to enable the audience to understand the content quickly and easily” – says planetary scientist Paul Byrne, lead author and designer of this work. “Hence the minimalist design and lots of negative space—I try to use the bandwidth of a poster or talk well, but not to crowd the presentation in a way that makes it hard for someone to follow what’s going on.”


Global map of smooth plains of Mercury from Byrne et al. 2015While most global planetary maps are in a standard Equirectangular projection, the map created by Paul Byrne is in the Robinson projection, which avoids significant visual distortion approaching the poles and enables the flat image to more closely resembles a familiar globe.

The poster was made in Adobe Illustrator, with base maps exported from ArcGIS.

The minimalist design characterizes both the map and the poster, using all elements of the layout, the fonts, the colors, and the nomenclature to create an organic visual experience: the place-names are either all lowercase, or all caps, reflecting the typographic principles of the Bauhaus movement in the 1920s which set sans serif as the new standard. However, the main text is set in Gotham, a “very American” type of Sans Serif, designed in 2000, connecting planetary science and Star Wars with American pop culture at the dawn of the Space Age.



Detail of a two-hemisphere thematic map of Mercury from Byrne et al. 2015. This orthographic map is centered 30°S, 47°E and the spacing of the coordinate grid is 10°. As a result, there are no straight lines in the grid. Note that there are only four grid values displayed, making it unambiguous and at the same time not crowding the map with numbers. Note the curved leader lines.

The choice of color is also minimalist, coherent, and the best choice for high precision color printing. The poster uses six colors in total: all four colors used in color printing (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) plus two secondary colors that don’t require halftoning (red – yellow and magenta, and blue – cyan and magenta).

“I like the retro aesthetic of curves in lines, and I also like the idea of a polished, grid-like floor reflecting the poster content hovering above it” -says Paul Byrne. “Above all, I want my posters to stand out and pique the audience’s attention—something that’s hard in a poster session with hundreds of presenters—and so I try to compose them in ways that are striking and eye-catching”.

And it worked.


The poster as it was on display at the AGU Fall Meeting, Dec 18, 2015. The tinsel is to catch the attention – last year Paul had lights arranged around his poster.


Henrik Hargitai, Natalie Glines

Pluto-Charon: new toponym namebanks

November 17, 2015


Informal feature names of Pluto and Charon, from the first research article on the New Horizons results. On Pluto, spacecrafts are commemorated, while on Charon, Star Wars and Star Trek characters populate the map.

Chinese names on the Moon

November 16, 2015

The IAU Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature has approved names for three craters and the Chang’e 3 landing site on the Moon. Chang’e 3 landed on the Moon on 14 December 2013.

The Chang’e 3 landing site is named “Guang Han Gong”, after the Moon palace where Chang-E and Yutu lived in Chinese mythology.

Three craters nearby were named Zi Wei, Tai Wei, Tian Shi, after the “three enclosures in Chinese ancient star map”.

According to the rules of IAU, craters on the Moon can be named after the followings: “Deceased scientists and polar explorers who have made outstanding or fundamental contributions to their field. Deceased Russian cosmonauts are commemorated by craters in and around Mare Moscoviense. Deceased American astronauts are commemorated by craters in and around the crater Apollo. Appropriate locations will be provided in the future for other space-faring nations should they also suffer fatalities. First names are used for small craters of special interest” (Source).

We note that no Russian “landing site name” has been approved on the Moon but 12 small “Lunokhod-1 landing site features” were named after Russian common names, in 2012. Lunokhod 1 landed on the Moon on November 17, 1970.

Sources of quotations: Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature.

Happy Halloween

October 30, 2015

Happy Halloween

The Traverse of The Martian (book/movie): Map

September 24, 2015

Here is our map of the area covered by Andy Weir’s 2011 novel, The Martian. The movie will be released on Oct 2, 2015. Take the map with you and follow the story cartographically.

If you click on the link below this map, You’ll get fictional astronaut Mark Watney’s traverse on the real Martian terrain.


Copyright notice: this map is in the public domain and is derived from public domain datasets.


Click here → for the map that shows Mark Watney’s traverse

Topography: MOLA gridded data
Geology: Tanaka, K.L., Skinner, J.A., Jr., Dohm, J.M., Irwin, R.P., III, Kolb, E.J., Fortezzo, C.M., Platz, T., Michael, G.G., and Hare, T.M., 2014, Geologic map of Mars: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Map 3292, scale 1:20,000,000, pamphlet 43 p.,
Valleys: Hynek Valley Network Database 


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