Ordnance Survey creates map for Martian ramblers

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The new map of the surface of Mars is the first extraterrestrial map produced by the Ordnance Survey(Credit: Ordnance Survey)

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When the first astronauts set foot on Mars, they'll need to be able to find their way around without the aid of GPS. To this end, Britain's Ordnance Survey (OS) has released its first map of another planet. Created in the distinct OS style, the one-off chart's purpose is to examine the potential of the agency's advanced cartographic methods in creating detailed, easy to understand maps for planning future missions to the Red Planet.

Founded in 1791, Ordnance Survey was originally tasked with creating maps of the British Isles for the country's armed forces to help with defense in the event of invasion. Over the last 225 years, the OS has gained a reputation as one of the world's premiere cartographic organizations as it cranks out constantly updated topographic maps of the United Kingdom that record hundreds of millions of geographic features with great precision.

Designed to display large amounts of data in an easy-to-read format, OS maps are used by soldiers, builders, archaeologists, surveyors, engineers, and are especially favored by ramblers for hiking cross country. Now OS is showing how its mapmaking skills could be used for space ramblers on the sands of Mars.

The result is a map of the Western Arabia Terra region on the Martian equator and includes the landing sites for NASA's Pathfinder and Opportunity missions. Drawn in one to four million scale, it covers an area of 3,672 x 2,721 km (2,282 x 1,691 mi) and is takes the form of a one-off paper and digital map. According to OS, the key to the new Martian map isn't just its subject, but also the house style that was used in drawing it.

"We have set out from the start to treat the Mars data no different to how we would treat OS GB [Great Britain] data or any other Earth-based geography," says OS Cartographic Design Consultant, Chris Wesson, who designed the Martian map. "Even though the principles are the same, the design and the aesthetics of an Earth map differ considerably. The cartographic style is something that is very different to your typical planetary map and is identifiable as an OS map. The key ingredients to this style are the soft colour palette of the base combined with the traditional map features such as contours and grid lines, and the map sheet layout complete with legend."

OS says that this is the first map of a place outside of Britain to be created by the agency since the mid-1990s and could prove helpful for future Mars mission planning as well as providing a compelling visual way of informing the public about them.

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