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Observing the Fire Star: Selected Maps of the Red Planet

Raymond Taylor. A Signal from Mars. Published by E.T. Taylor Music Company, 1901. Music Division.

Mars receives more media attention than the other planets in our solar system. People are obsessed with the classic novels The War of the Worlds and The Martian Chronicles. The movies Total Recall and The Martian were huge hits. Mars has polar ice caps, dry river beds and extinct volcanoes, and Martian landscape posters have become increasingly popular. The fascination with Mars began thousands of years ago when ancient astronomers recorded the planet’s movements.

In this post I am sharing images of some historical and contemporary maps of  Mars that are held in the  Library’s collections. I am also providing links to a series of webcasts that were sponsored by the Science Technology and Business Division. During the webcasts NASA scientists discuss their research and provide recent images of the planet’s surface.

The image of Mars shown below is from a map that was published in 1754 by the French cartographer Nicolas de Fer. The illustration of Mars was based on observations that were made by the astronomer Giovanni Cassini. Cassini served as the director of the Paris Observatory from 1671 to 1712.

Nicolas de Fer. Detail from Mappe-monde, ou carte générale de la terre : divisée en deux hémisphéres suivant la projéction la plus commune ou tous les points principaux sont placez sur les observations de mesrs. de l’Academie roïale des sciences. Published by Chez le sieur Desbois, géographe, rue Saint Jacques à la sphére royale, avec privelege du roy, 1754. Geography and Map Division.

A Martian opposition occurs when the earth passes between Mars and the sun. Mars becomes more visible during an opposition. The first detailed map of Mars was made by the Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli during The Great Martian Opposition of 1877. Schiaparelli created a map of Mars with channels (canali). He described the channels as linear depressions on the Martian surface. The word canali was mistakenly translated to “canals” in English language publications. Consequently, fake news spread that Martians were alive and had constructed irrigation canals on their planet. An American astronomer named Asaph Hall discovered that Mars has two moons during the opposition of 1877.

The lines on the chart below were incorporated from Schiaparelli’s map of 1877.

Map of Mars dated 1877 showing channels

Camille Flammarion. Astronomy for amateurs, 1904. From the General Collections of the Library of Congress.

The lithograph featured below was published in 1881. The map was created by the French artist Eitienne Leopold Trouvelot. It was based on observations that Trouvelot made during The Great Martian Opposition of 1877.

A map of Mars dated 1877

E.L. Trouvelot. The planet Mars, observed September 3, 1877, at 11h. 55m. P.M. 1881. Prints and Photographs Division.

The map of Mars below was printed in an atlas titled Neuer grosser Hand-Atlas. The atlas was published in Berlin during the year 1894.

Map of Mars dated 1894

Verlag von R. Grossmann. Detail from Sudlicher Sternenhimmel. Published by Verlag von R. Grossman, 1894. Geography and Map Division.

During the 1960s NASA launched flyby missions past Mars to gather data about the planet.The two maps featured below were published in 1965. The pictorial representations were based on data that was gathered from the flyby missions.

Pictorial representation of Mars. Published by the United States Army Map Service, 1965. Geography and Map Division.

An image of the topography of Mars.

Mars : MEC-1 Prototype. Published by Aeronautical Chart and Information Center, 1965. Geography and Map Division.

In 1975 NASA launched two Viking Orbiters to transport landers to Mars. The orbiters photographed Mars while circling the planet. The landers photographed the surface of Mars and deployed instruments to test the soil. The tests did not show evidence of organic material. Below is an image taken from one of the Viking Landers.

Viking Lander image of the surface of Mars

Viking Lander images of the surface of Mars. Published by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. 1977. Manuscript Division.

NASA has landed the following rovers on Mars: Sojourner in 1997, Spirit and Opportunity in 2003, and Curiosity in 2012. Data collected from Curiosity showed the presence of bed rock and silica which proved that liquid water and possibly life once existed on the planet. On February 18, 2021, a fifth rover, Perseverance, landed on Mars to collect rock and soil samples. The samples may prove that microbial life was once present on Mars. Someday humans may land on Mars; they must find ways to deal with cosmic rays, microgravity and meteorite strikes before they take the trip. Click on the links below to watch webcasts about the fourth rock from the sun.

Learn more:

The Case of the Missing Martian Atmosphere

Extraterrestrial Real Estate: Measuring Habitability on Mars with the Curiosity Rover

Home Alone in a Simulated Mars

Martian Mud: Recent Discovery of Organic Matter on Mars

Mars Update: James Garvin

Swimming in Martian Lakes: Curiosity at Gale Crater