10 beautiful moon maps through the ages

Updated 0906 GMT (1706 HKT) July 31, 2014
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Man has been making images of the moon for millennia, but the complicated craft of lunar cartography really took off 400 years ago, thanks to the invention of a little something called the telescope. Here are some of the most beautiful moon maps made since then.

By Allyssia Alleyne, for CNN

Pictured: A map showing the moon's gravity, created by NASA's Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission in 2012.
Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/CSM
Galileo Galilei, 1610

Galileo Galilei, who has been called the "father of modern science," was the first to publish drawings of the moon as seen through a telescope. These wash drawings, published in his treatise Sidereus Nuncius (Sidereal Messenger), show the surface of the moon during its different phases.

At the time, it was both groundbreaking and controversial for Galileo to depict the moon as mountainous and irregular. In doing so, he directly challenged (and disproved) Aristotle's widely believed theory that the moon -- and all other celestial bodies -- were perfectly smooth and spherical.
Courtesy Wellcome Library, London
Giovanni Battista Riccioli, 1651

While Jesuit astronomer Giovanni Battista Riccioli didn't draw the map himself (that was his student and collaborator Francesco Maria Grimaldi), he did develop its complex nomenclature, much of which is still used today.

Most features are named after astronomers, scientists and philosophers associated with the moon. The names are organized chronologically, from north to south, and grouped according to nationality and interest to other categories. Riccioli was also the first to refer to the deep depressions on the moon's surface as maria, or seas -- such as the Mare Tranquillitatis -- Sea of Tranquility.
Courtesy Alder Planetarium, Chicago, Illinois
Selenographia by John Russell, circa 1797

John Russell was a well-known society portraitist in his day (in fact, several of his pieces hang at the National Portrait Gallery in London), but Selenographia is his most enduring creation.

Russell observed the moon for 30 years before producing Selenographia. The subtle details show that he was just as dedicated to accuracy as he was to art. Consider, for example, how the larger sphere wobbles on its brass pedestal to imitate libration, the slight rocking motion experienced when watching the moon from Earth (which is represented by the smaller sphere.)

Selenographia is on display at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich until 4 January, 2015, as part of the Longitude Punk'd exhibition.
Courtesy National Maritime Museum, Greenwich
Wilhelm Beer and Johann Heinrich von Mädler, 1834-36

This exceptionally detailed map was produced by German astronomers Wilhelm Beer and Johann Heinrich von Mädler, and was released in quadrants between 1834 and 1836. Their Mappa Selenographica -- shown here as a closeup from Stieler's Hand-Atlas -- is considered the most complete moon map of its age, and would not be surpassed for 40 years.
Courtesy Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Walter Goodacre, 1910

We don't have to leave everything to the professionals. Walter Goodacre, who drew this extremely detailed 70 inch map, was a British businessman by day (he ran his family's carpet manufacturing business), and an amateur astronomer by night. Though he mostly relied on his own observations as seen through a home telescope, he also referenced existing photos of the moon, and the observations of others to make his map as accurate as possible.

He served as president of the lunar section of the British Astronomical Association for 42 years, and would go on to publish a book of moon maps and descriptions of the moon's features.
Courtesy UCL Faculty of Mathematical and Physical Sciences
USGS, 1979

In the 1960s, the United States Geological Survey started a project to help with NASA's space exploration efforts, including this psychedelic map of the moon's geological makeup. (Unfortunately, most of the other maps are more sober.)

What has the USGS been up to lately? It recently created this stunning geological map of Mars.
Courtesy USRA -- Lunar and Planetary Institute
NASA, 1996

This NASA-produced false color image combined 15 images of the moon taken by the aptly named Galileo Orbiter, in 1992. The different colored filters indicate soil composition. Red areas generally correspond to the lunar highlands, and blue to orange shades indicate the ancient volcanic lava flow of a "mare," or lunar sea. Bluer mare areas contain more titanium than the orange regions.
Courtesy NASA/JP
NASA, 1999

This NASA map, created by the Lunar Prospector mission, shows how the force of gravity differs across the moon's surface. It's much more powerful around the red spots, which represent "mascons" (high concentrations of dense materials beneath the surface).
Courtesy NASA
NASA, 2010

Researchers from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Institute, Brown University, and MIT created the first map of the moon's surface to include all 5,185 of its large craters. It was created using over 3 billion measurements captured by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter over the course of one year. (Check out the very-cool video projection here.)
Courtesy NASA/Goddard/MIT/Brown
NAOJ, GSI and JAXA, 2013

The result of a collaboration between the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, this slightly ominous map gives us a better idea of exactly how deep the moon's largest impact crater really is (the redder the area, the higher the elevation.) For another interesting perspective, check out their birds-eye-view rendering of the same area.