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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

A Map That Goes Medieval on Mars

By Phil Plait

I’ve always been something of a map dork. I remember sitting in the back of the car on long rides as a kid, poring over the foldout maps, the U.S. map, and the key map my folks had under the passenger’s seat. It was so much fun to look at the roads, the landmarks, the cities, and places I had never heard of before. … It’s easy to see now why so many great stories start with finding a secret map.

Sometimes it goes the other way, though: Our stories inspire maps. Eleanor Lutz is an artist who has a self-professed love of medieval maps. She created an amazing and really quite beautiful map of Mars in that historical style. A portion is shown above; but you really should see and peruse the bigger version. It’s lovely. I’ll note she has prints of the map for sale, too.

She titled it “Here Be Robots,” which I love. As many people have pointed out, Mars is the only planet we know of inhabited entirely by robots. She has the landing sites of a few of them labeled, too.

I love the layout and flow of the map; it does have that medieval style, but with a modern take—it’s Mars, after all, and it’s real. This map is based on observations made by humans from Earth over the centuries, and then the details filled in by a score of probes sent there in the past half-century.

There’s a story for you: the exploration of an alien world, close by but still terribly distant, full of wonder and bizarre terrain and things we still don’t understand. And apropos of the style of the map, Mars is like a monster guarding the bridge; half the missions sent there have resulted in failure.

Like Scylla and Charybdis, Mars is a dangerous stretch of water, apt to eat unwary travelers. If there were ever a warning to put on a map like this, “Here Be Dragons” would be appropriate.

And yet we pushed through, and we have sent spacecraft there successfully, one after another. Unlike those old fables that promote the fear of the unknown, when we keep our eyes open, our heads high, and our brains fully on alert, we can push through the ignorance and turn terra incognita into Mars cognita.

Lutz has more of her artwork at her blog, Tabletop Whale, and on Deviantart. Seriously, watch this animated graphic of human fetal development. Amazing!

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