Have you ever wondered what kind of rocks form those bright, dark spots on the moon? A new official map to help us explain the history of the 4.5 billion years of existence of our closest neighbour in space: The Moon has been presented.
Based on satellite data and Apollo-era missions, scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), NASA and the Lunar Planetary Institute have reconstructed what they say is the first complete geological map of the Moon.
The lunar map, called the 'Unified Geological Map of the Moon', will serve as a definitive model of the moon’s surface geology for future manned missions and will be invaluable to the international scientific community, educators and the general public. It shows an incredibly detailed view of our satellite, showing its geology on a scale of 1: 5,000,000.
"The Moon has always fascinated humanity and about when we might return," says current USGS director and former NASA astronaut Jim Reilly. Excitement is in the air seeing USGS create a tool that can help NASA with its planning for future missions.
Missions contributing to the project
To create the new digital map, scientists used information from six Apollo-era regional maps along with updated information from recent satellite missions to the moon. The NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Wide Angle Camera data set and the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter, detailing the nooks and crannies of the Moon and other spacecraft, such as the Selenological and Engineering Explorer (SELENE), led by JAXA, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, provided topographic data for the north and south poles.
The result is a complete map that we can download on our computer. The geological map is colour-coded according to the mosaic of rocks, materials and structures that make up the Earth’s natural satellite.
"This map is the culmination of a decades-long project," said Corey Fortezzo, a USGS geologist and lead author of the project. “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 first complete geological map of the Moon consists of 43 geological units, according to a document produced by the team for the 51st Lunar and Planetary Science Conference. "These units are divided into groups according to attributes and include materials from craters, basins, plains, eastern formation or volcanic units.”
If you’re wondering about the colours on the map, these represent the discrete geological units of the Moon that are discernible on a map scale of 1: 5,000,000, i.e., 1 millimetre on the map equals 5,000,000 millimetre on the lunar surface; or what is the same: 5 kilometres.
Scientists claim that this Unified Geological Map of the Moon can act as a blueprint for future manned missions to the Moon, as well as provide key information for scientists here on Earth.
Reference: United States Geological Survey Unified Geologic Map of the Moon website.