Finding a good map of Mars is no easy task. There’s one really good map from NASA, but it doesn’t show up on the first page of google results for "map of mars." The first thing you’ll notice is that there are a lot of red/green/blue topographical maps like the one pictured below. The reds are the high elevations, and the blue the low elevations. The maps are cool and interesting, but they don’t really answer a lot of the questions you have about Mars.
It’s kind of like trying to picture the earth like this:
From the topographical map, we can start identifying regions and orienting ourselves on an otherwise uniformly dusty planet. Without oceans and continents, we have to rely on highlands and lowlands and massive craters to delineate Martian territories. We can see immediately that the lowest altitude region on Mars is the big blue crater (Hellas Basin).
NASA Mars Trek
If we want to really dig in and explore the features of Mars, NASA has a really awesome and surprisingly modern web map, Mars Trek (http://marstrek.jpl.nasa.gov/#). There’s lots of quality science and geology layers to explore on this map. You should definitely go through the little tour they offer in order to figure out how to add the features you're interested in.
NASA goes the extra mile to make Mars fun for everybody. For instance, they have plotted the path taken during the film The Martian for us to see (it’s in the bookmarks tab, right here). It would be great if they could color-match the high-res light brown image tiles, but it’s a cool map nonetheless.
ExoMars Landing Sites
You have got to experience this interactive study of where on Mars the ESA ExoMars mission might go. The map teaches you about the design constraints that mission planners face, and gives you a visual reference for which spots are viable and lucrative for science missions.
If you are doing modern maps, odds are you have used Mapbox before. They have a couple really awesome sets of tiles that they released this past March in this blog post. The hillshaded vector tiles are particularly cool, and we can't wait to use them in a visualization project in a later blog post here on intergalactic labs.
Stamen Design produces a lot of really awesome vector tiles, often with the intent of achieving some new or unique visual effect, and their Tron-esque Mars map is no exception. If you find a good use of these Mars tiles, let us know and we'll put it up on the site!
Google provides a topographical map that has little markers all over it. It gives you a little more insight into where specific things are on Mars, but really doesn’t get anywhere near a good earth map. Regions are represented as points, which is kind of weird.
USGS is the governmental body that is officially in charge of planetary maps, so they have their own map of Mars (http://webgis2.wr.usgs.gov/Mars_Global_GIS/). The problem is that it’s not made for regular people like you and me, it’s made by engineers and scientists for engineers and scientists. However, most of this data lives on in the Mars Trek map above, and it's really interesting to see how far the planetary mapping community has progressed in recent years.
We hope you liked our introduction to modern maps of Mars! We think that there's a lot of progress being made in mapping right now, and we’re excited to release our own Mars maps to the public. Stay tuned!