A New Basemap to Create Your Own Maps of Mars

Why would you need to create a map of Mars? For fun yes, but what else?

Nicolas Manaud
Dec 18, 2017 · 3 min read

As a scientific communicator, journalist or educator, you may want to tell engaging stories about the active exploration of the red planet. Mars missions from international space agencies are returning a growing wealth of scientific data. Few of them are turned into public outreach material, typically static images or maps, that you can use in support to your narrative. However, by nature, they lack interactivity and contextual information needed for further exploration and understanding by your audience.

We are a small group of researchers, developers and designers passionate about planetary mapping and cartography. With the support of CARTO and Europlanet, we are building the first Open Planetary Mapping and Social platform for planetary scientists, space enthusiasts, educators and storytellers to easily and collaboratively create and share location-based knowledge and maps of Mars and other planets of our Solar System.

This platform will consist of three main components:

  1. Web app — A web map interface that will make it easy and enjoyable for novice people to discover, search, share, discuss and add their own Places on Mars.
  2. Datasets — An open datasets repository containing a selection of location-based information and places of interest about Martian geography, topography, geology, weather, climate, scientific missions and discoveries, robotic and human exploration.
  3. Basemaps — A set of beautifully crafted vector-based basemaps of Mars that will serve as the base layers of the web map interface exposing content from the open datasets repository, and enriching the overall user experience.

Toward a global vector-based basemap of Mars

Several raster-based Mars basemaps had been created for the “Where On Mars?” pilot project, an interactive visualisation of the landing sites proposed for the ESA’s ExoMars Rover. At the latest European Planetary Science Conference held in Riga on September 2017, we announced the release of our first draft of a vector-based basemap of Mars.

OPM Mars Basemap v0.1 (data source: NASA/MOLA/TES/USGS)

A basemap is the foundational layer of a data map’s visual hierarchy. Our goal with this basemap is to provide a characteristic and representative view of Mars enabling users to overlay various thematic location data. It’s not an easy task as Mars is a very unfamiliar planet to most people.

We have identified and styled three main scientific datasets: topography, albedo (the fraction of the light reflected by a surface) and the nomenclature of the main features on Mars. We used a combination of hill-shading, contours lines, and elevation color coding techniques so as to highlight the Martian dichotomy and the main topographic features like Olympus Mons or Hellas Planitia. One advantage of building a custom basemap is the ability to apply response styling features inviting viewers to explore the map further. As you zoom in, you’ll see more labels or contour lines may appear (as well as hillshading polygons in a future version).

This initial release allowed to test the technical aspects of creating a publicly accessible basemap based on vector data. Although currently available in raster tiles, our end basemap is intended to be fully rendered using vector rendering engine such as Mapzen Tangram.

Use our Mars basemap today!

There are many design aspects to be improved, but with this early release we want to encourage you to create and share your own map of Mars, and hear your feedback.

You can insert our basemap into CARTO Builder today! First, read CARTO’s guide on inserting external basemaps. Second, when asked for the URL source for your custom basemap, insert this link:


You can also insert our other basemaps of Mars.

To help you getting started with mapping Mars, we’ve also made available a few datasets that will be part of the future open datasets repository.

Should you want to contribute to the OpenPlanetaryMap project, please visit the openplanetarymap.org website for more information.

Thanks for reading, and happy Mars mapping!


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