The earliest known maps were simple affairs. Some showed the location of little hills; others, buildings. And they're old — dating back to 2300 B.C., at least. Humans have been perfecting cartography ever since, culminating in the first of what we'd recognize as a "modern" world map: Gerardus Mercator's famous cylindrical projection in 1569.
Technology's come a long way since then, of course. Not only do we have the ability to study the geography of a place with more precision, but we can process that information faster and in more complex ways.
All that research has now resulted in another triumph of human knowledge: The most complete geologic mapping yet of an entirely different planet. Scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey said this week that they've finished humanity's most thorough map of Mars. It's not exactly the kind of map you'd use to navigate from point A to point B — instead, it depicts all kinds of useful scientific information. Topography, geologic composition, thermal information, and more.
Thanks to advances in imaging and four spacecraft that have been orbiting Mars since the late 1990s, the new map improves upon the earliest global maps of Mars, which were made back in the 1970s and 1980s, according to USGS.
"Findings from the map will enable researchers to evaluate potential landing sites for future Mars missions that may contribute to further understanding of the planet’s history," said USGS's acting director, Suzette Kimball.
No doubt this'll tickle Elon Musk, who's vowed to send humans to Mars by 2020.