First Comprehensive Geological Map of the Moon Created by USGS

Researchers have created a unique map of the moon that reveals the geological make-up of our natural satellite.

According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the so-called "Unified Geologic Map of the Moon" is the definitive blueprint of the moon's surface geology.

The map could help us to understand the 4.5-billion-year history of our natural satellite, while also serving as a valuable resource for future missions, lunar scientists, educators and members of the general public interested in lunar geology.

The digital map—which is available to download online—was developed by researchers at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in collaboration with NASA and the Lunar Planetary Institute.

"People have always been fascinated by the moon and when we might return," USGS director and former NASA astronaut Jim Reilly said in a statement. "So, it's wonderful to see USGS create a resource that can help NASA with their planning for future missions."

The digital map—which shows the moon's features at a scale of 1:5,000,000—was put together using six regional maps made during the Apollo era, in combination with information collected during recent lunar missions.

For example, the scientists determined the elevation around the moon's equatorial region using data collected by the recent SELENE (Selenological and Engineering Explorer) mission, which was led by the Japanese space agency JAXA.

Unified Geologic Map of the Moon
The Unified Geologic Map of the Moon showing the geology of the Moon’s near side (left) and far side (right.) NASA/GSFC/USGS

Meanwhile, they used data collected by NASA's Lunar Orbiter to map the topography of the moon's north and south poles. The older maps were overlaid on the newer, higher resolution datasets.

The researchers also developed a unified description of the moon's rock layers, which resolved issues with older maps that contained some inconsistencies with regards to rock names, descriptions and ages.

According to the USGS, all these features mean that the resource is the firs, to completely map and uniformly classify the moon's geology. The map reveals the varying geology of the moon using a color-coded system.

"This map is a culmination of a decades-long project," Corey Fortezzo, USGS geologist and lead developer of the map, said in a statement. "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 map could provide useful for NASA's Artemis program, which intends to land the "first woman and next man" on the moon by 2024 with a long-term goal of establishing a sustainable presence on the lunar surface. The space agency hopes that these missions will lay the necessary groundwork for future manned missions to Mars.