Science & Technology

First-ever digital geological map of moon released by US Geological Survey

It will serve as a blue print for future human lunar missions

By Susan Chacko
Published: Friday 24 April 2020
The moon as seen in the digital geological map made by the US Geological Survey. Photo: @cbquist / Twitter__

The first ever digital, unified, global, geological map of the moon was released virtually by the  United States Geological Survey (USGS), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) and the Lunar Planetary Institute on April 22, 2020.

The map is a ‘seamless, globally consistent, 1:5,000,000-scale geologic map’.

Called the ‘Unified Geologic Map of the Moon’, it will serve as a blueprint for future human missions and a source of research and analysis for the educators and the general public interested in lunar geology.

The moon the closest cosmic body to Earth through which space discovery can be attempted and documented has always piqued the interest of humanity.

S Harrel, a NASA Space Grant student, mapped the surface features of the moon which included crater rim crests, buried crater rim crests, fissures, grabens, scarps, mare wrinkle ridges, faults, troughs, rilles, and lineaments.

The researchers built on the original digital renovation of the six 1:5,000,000-scale lunar geologic maps comprising of the near, central far, east, west, north and south sides that was released in 2013.

The final map consists of 43 geologic units across the entire lunar surface, broken down into groups based on characteristics like materials of craters, basins, terra, plains and volcanic units.

Data from recent satellite missions to the moon and resources data from NASA’s Apollo Missions were used to come up with the map.

“People have always been fascinated by the moon and when we might return,” current USGS Director and former NASA astronaut, Jim Reilly, said.

“So, it is wonderful to see USGS create a resource that can help NASA with their planning for future missions,” he added.

This version of the map is a digital release only available in GIS and PDF formats. The map can be downloaded from the Unified Geologic Map of the Moon website.

“This map is a culmination of a decades-long project,” said Corey Fortezzo, USGS geologist and lead author. “It provides vital information for new scientific studies by connecting the exploration of specific sites on the moon with the rest of the lunar surface.”

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chandrayaan 2, is an active mission that targets the Lunar South Pole for exploration.

The moon’s South Pole is especially interesting because the area is much larger than the North Pole and there could be possibility of presence of water in these permanently shadowed areas. Further, the South Pole region also contains the fossil record of the early Solar System.

Like Chandrayan, other moon missions like the Artemis (human spaceflight programme), that is a crewed exploration programme of Nasa, plan to send humans to the Lunar South Pole by 2024 and in due course of time, establish a permanent presence on the moon.

These present and future moon missions’ success can be further helped by the digital map of the moon.

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