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Going to the Moon: Early Cartography of the Lunar Surface

Opere di Galileo Galilei ...Map by Galileo Galilei, 1655. Rare Books and Special Collections Division.

Opere di Galileo Galilei …Map by Galileo Galilei, 1655. Rare Books and Special Collections Division.

The lunar maps shown in this post were created long before satellite images became available. The topography is highly detailed and the historical backgrounds of the astronomers who created them are compelling.

The first working telescope was built in the Netherlands in 1608. British astronomer Thomas Harriot (1560-1621) made the first recorded sketches of the moon in 1609 after viewing it through a telescope. A few months later Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) also made recorded sketches of the moon. Galileo used the chiaroscuro technique to shade the light and dark parts of the lunar mountains and craters. An example of one of Galileo’s lunar maps is shown on the left.

British mapmaker John Seller (1632-1697) was accused of high treason for allegedly repeating rumors about a stockpile of arms. He was found guilty and imprisoned in 1662. He was later pardoned and appointed Hydrographer to the King in 1671, which meant he published nautical charts and sailing directions for the Crown. In addition to sailing charts, Seller published the first British celestial atlas Atlas Caelestis in 1680. The lunar map shown below is from a later atlas that was published by Seller in 1700. The title of the atlas is Atlas Terrestris. It is bound in vellum with brass clasps.

Atlas terrestris, or, a book of mapps, of all the empires, monarchies, kingdoms, regions, dominions, principalities, and countreys in the whole world : accomodated with a brief description of the nature and quality of each perticular countrey . Map by John Seller, 1700. Geography and Map Division.

Atlas terrestris, or, a book of mapps, of all the empires, monarchies, kingdoms, regions, dominions, principalities, and countreys in the whole world : accomodated with a brief description of the nature and quality of each perticular countrey . Map by John Seller, 1700. Geography and Map Division.

Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius (1611-1687) came from a wealthy family of brewers. He built an observatory in his hometown of Gdansk in 1641. Hevelius is often referred to as the founder of lunar topography. He published an atlas of the moon titled Selenographia in 1647. Featured below is a map from the atlas.

Plate 649 from Selenographia, sive, Lunæ descriptio : atque accurata ... delineatio. In quâ simul cæterorum omnium planetarum nativa facies, variæque observationes ... figuris accuratissimè æri incisis, sub aspectum ponuntur ... Addita est, lentes expoliendi nova ratio ...Map by Johannes Hevelius, 1647. Rare Books and Special Collections Division..

Plate 649 from Selenographia, sive, Lunæ descriptio : atque accurata … delineatio. In quâ simul cæterorum omnium planetarum nativa facies, variæque observationes … figuris accuratissimè æri incisis, sub aspectum ponuntur … Addita est, lentes expoliendi nova ratio …Map by Johannes Hevelius, 1647. Rare Books and Special Collections Division.

Below is an image of a plate from Johann Baptist Homann’s Grosser Atlas über die gantze Welt … The map on the left was created by Johannes Hevelius. The map on the right was composed by two Jesuit priests, Francesco Grimaldi (1618-1663) and Giovanni Riccioli (1598-1671). Riccioli named many of the moon’s features including the Sea of Tranquility (Mare Tranquillitatis), the site for the first manned lunar landing on July 20, 1969.

Tabula Selenographica in qua Lunarium Macularum exacta Descriptio...Copper engraving made by Johann Baptist Homann. 1748. Geography and Map Division.

Tabula Selenographica in qua Lunarium Macularum exacta Descriptio…Copper engraving made by Johann Baptist Homann. 1748. Geography and Map Division.

The map below is in both the French and German languages. It shows diagrams for the lunar eclipse that occurred on August 8th, 1748. The map was made by Tobias Mayer (1723-1762). Mayer was a German mathematician and astronomer who produced charts that contained accurate methods for calculating eclipses.

Vorstellung der Mondfinsternis vom 8./9. August 1748. Map by Tobias Mayer, 1748. Geography and Map Division.

Vorstellung der Mondfinsternis vom 8./9. August 1748. Map by Tobias Mayer, 1748. Geography and Map Division.

Johann Friedrich Julius Schmidt (1825-1884) was an astronomer and geophysicist who had a lifelong interest in the study of the moon. In 1858 Schmidt became director of the National Observatory of Athens. He published an atlas of the moon titled Charte der Gebirge des Mondes nach eigenen Beobachtungen in den Jahren 1840-1874. The maps were made by Wilhelm Lohrmann (1796-1840) who created a topographical series of the moon complete in 25 sheets.  Schmidt edited and published all 25 sections of Lohrmann’s lunar topography in 1878. The map featured below is an example of one of the plates from the atlas.

Charte der Gebirge des Mondes nach eigenen Beobachtungen in den Jahren 1840-1874. Map by Johann Friedrich Julius Schmidt, 1878. Geography and Map Division.

Charte der Gebirge des Mondes nach eigenen Beobachtungen in den Jahren 1840-1874. Map by Johann Friedrich Julius Schmidt, 1878. Geography and Map Division.

Maurice (Moritz) Loewy (1833-1907) was born in Vienna, Austria. He became a French citizen after obtaining a position at the Paris Observatory in 1860. Loewy became director of the observatory in 1896. That same year he published the Atlas Photographique de la lune with another French astronomer Pierre Puiseux (1855-1928). A camera was attached to a telescope to photograph the moon. A preset clock system was used to synchronize the camera and telescope with the lunar path. The photographs were enlarged and transferred to an etching plate. Thousands of photographic prints were made from a single plate. The following is an example of a photograph from the atlas.

Atlas photographique de la lune. Photograph by Maurice Loewy and Pierre Puiseux, 1896. Geography and Map Division.

Atlas photographique de la lune. Photograph by Maurice Loewy and Pierre Puiseux, 1896. Geography and Map Division.

The collections of Geography and Map Division also include lunar globes, relief models, and modern satellite images. In this post I have shared only a few examples of lunar cartography held at the Library of Congress.