Geography & Environment Publications

Planetary Cartography

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Planetary cartography is the making or study of maps of planets and other celestial bodies. The earliest known are carvings of lunar markings at Knowth, Ireland (2800 BC), the related ground plan of Stonehenge, and Egyptian depictions of the Moon as an eye. Telescopic observations after 1609 permitted detailed lunar mapping. Though other worlds were more difficult targets, 10 bodies beyond Earth had been mapped before the Space Age. Spacecraft flights to the Moon and planets have generated many maps for planning, operational use during the mission, and depiction of results. Extensive systematic mapping of the Moon supported the Apollo landings and was augmented with data from those flights. Following Apollo, robotic spacecraft traveled to other planets. Forty-two worlds had been mapped from planetary spacecraft data by 1999, and 18 more by telescopic means. Many planetary maps since 1990 are digital products, and the reduced number of maps published on paper may compromise historical studies. Some science fiction works contain maps reflecting contemporary knowledge of their settings, which may help shape public awareness of the planets. Thus, maps record both the history of astronomy and space exploration and a broader cultural response to those endeavors.


Published in: International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences. N. J. Smelser and P. B. Baltes. (Eds.).