Maps of Mars

I recently started working on a self-pubbed graphic novel tentatively called Paradise Now. Set long into our future, the story takes place on a Mars terraformed by corporations in order to become an industrial hub. For someone who was obsessed with science fiction when I was a kid, I’m crudely ill informed about our actual solar system, and as a result, I’m in the throes of research and discovery right now. Mars, to my surprise, has been pretty well mapped already, with advances coming quicker and quicker.

It’s going to be a long time before I’m anywhere near publishing Paradise Now, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t share the Mars maps and images that I’ve found with you. Maybe they’ll inspire you, too.

Obviously, first stop was NASA. They’ve got a great overview of what Mars is like, as well as more information the deeper you go. The pictures of the flood plain from Pathfinder, with the mountain peak in the distance, littered with rocks, particularly sparked some ideas for scenes for me. NASA also has an image and video library with more shots of Mars that are fascinating. Catch me staring at ‘Mars in Color‘. A whole other planet. In colour. What?

Planetary Society elevation map

This labelled elevation map from the Planetary Society blew my mind. NASA says that Mars was formerly much warmer and wetter, and looking at those huge areas of low elevation, I’m wondering, would they be sea, in a terraformed martian future? It would depend on the volume of liquid water on the planet surface, obviously, but perhaps they could be. Might the Northern Lowlands and Arabia Terra actually be a huge, shallow ocean? Hellas and Argyre Basins enormous lakes? NASA points out that there’s evidence part of the eastern end of the Valles Marineris was formed by water – if it were all flooded, would the Valles Marineris be a huge series of fjords, perhaps?

Google Mars has an impressive level of detail on it. Being able to zoom in and see a variety of pock marks, and what look like river beds, but may be something else – again, not a marsological genius here – is really impressive. There are interactive menus to links with regions, features, etc, but I couldn’t get them to work, so it might be broken. If someone else knows the secret, let me know!

The British Astronomical Society has a series of maps from 1957 to 2012, showing the fascinating development of mapping Mars, as well as illustrating the challenges that come from trying to make maps of another planet from Earth. If the albedo (the amount of light reflected) of a planetary feature changes, that poses challenges for observing the feature, for instance. The society notes that a curved eastern part of one feature, due to an albedo change, hasn’t been seen since the seventies.

I’m very early in my Paradise Now project, right now, but every time I look at more images and maps of Mars, I get a clearer and clearer picture of where things might exist in the comic, the kind of spaces the story might take place in. My next step is understanding what terraforming Mars for frail, squishy human beings looks like.

Much love from the red planet.

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