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USGS unveils comprehensive moon map amid lunar controversy

by Greg Klein | April 21, 2020

The result might resemble a beach ball coated in psychedelic pizza but the U.S. Geological Survey calls it the first-ever comprehensive map of its kind. A culmination of six Apollo-era projects as well as more recent satellite missions, the chart details our nearest celestial neighbour at 1:5,000,000 scale.

USGS unveils comprehensive moon map amid controversy over US ambitions

Orthographic projections show the geology of the moon’s
near side (top) and far side (bottom), with shaded
topography from the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter.

The USGS redrew previous maps to align them with modern data while retaining previous observations and interpretations. Besides merging old and new data, researchers also developed a unified description of the moon’s stratigraphy, or rock layers. “This resolved issues from previous maps where rock names, descriptions and ages were sometimes inconsistent,” the USGS stated.

The outcome should interest international scientists and educators, as well as the public. It will also help guide earthlings on their future visits.

“People have always been fascinated by the moon and when we might return,” said USGS director Jim Reilly, a former NASA astronaut. “So it’s wonderful to see the USGS create a resource that can help NASA plan for future missions.”

While the agency placed the map in the public domain, international controversy surrounds the U.S. president’s executive order earlier this month on mining the moon and other extraterrestrial turf.

Donald Trump called for commercial partners to take part in an “innovative and sustainable program headed by the United States to lead the return of humans to the moon for long-term exploration and utilization, followed by human missions to Mars and other destinations.”

Among the goals would be resource extraction, including water and minerals.

Trump rejected a 1979 international agreement on outer space activities which he said discouraged some commercial endeavours. “Outer space is a legally and physically unique domain of human activity, and the United States does not view it as a global commons.”

Just 18 countries, Canada not among them, ratified the 1979 agreement.

Trump also called on the U.S. to “negotiate joint statements and bilateral and multilateral arrangements with foreign states regarding safe and sustainable operations for the public and private recovery and use of space resources.”

His statement drew a warning from Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency. “Attempts to expropriate outer space and aggressive plans to actually seize territories of other planets hardly set the countries (on course for) fruitful co-operation,” said the agency’s Sergey Saveliev.

“History knows examples of a country starting to seize territories for its own benefit—everyone remembers the outcome.”

Download the USGS Unified Geologic Map of the Moon.

See the map on an animated rotating globe.

Some earlier lunar depictions not only lacked scientific rigour but took an unacceptable approach to indigenous consultation:


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