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NASA's incredible new moon map will serve as blueprint for human missions

Using decades of data, the USGS put together the most comprehensive geologic map of the moon yet.

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The most comprehensive geologic map of the moon ever. 

NASA/GSFC/USGS

NASA is preparing for new missions to the moon, setting an ambitious goal for putting walkin', talkin' humans (including the first woman) back on the lunar surface by 2024. There's plenty of gigantic hurdles to overcome before that future is realized, but this stunning, detailed new map of the moon's surface features, produced by scientists from the United States Geological Survey (USGS), NASA and the Lunar Planetary Institute, is likely to play an invaluable role in fulfilling the agency's goal.

Known as the "Unified Geologic Map of the Moon", the cartograph looks like a rainbow Gobstopper and charts decades of geological surveys of the lunar surface, dating as far back as the Apollo era -- when humans first stepped foot on our celestial neighbor. Using regional maps from six Apollo missions combined with new data acquired by NASA's lunar orbiter and observations by Kaguya, a probe launched by the Japanese space agency which imaged the moon between 2007 and 2009. 

The colourful 1:5,000,000-scale geologic map, which was set to be unveiled during the 51st Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, is designed to serve as a resource for research and analysis efforts and to help future geologic surveys.

"It's wonderful to see USGS create a resource that can help NASA with their planning for future missions," said Jim Reilly, USGS director, in a press release.

The moon's pockmarked surface acts like a record of its history and the new map distinguishes between different geologic formations and time periods, using striking color to record the moon's past. The map is dominated by the pinks of the Imbrian era, which occurred some 3.5 billion years ago. During that time, the moon was smashed by asteroids, creating many of the impact craters we can see on the surface today.

A full-size version of the map can be found here.

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