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Planetary Mapping

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - PLANMAP (Planetary Mapping)

Période du rapport: 2019-09-01 au 2021-02-28

In the early stages of planetary exploration few space agencies were involved and space missions had limited capabilities. Nowadays, however, many nations can maintain robust space programs that continuously provide a great amount of highly complex datasets. Geological maps provide the context for all observations and interpretations of surface and subsurface processes on any solid planetary body, and their histories. Nonetheless, despite space activities becoming increasingly international, planetary geological maps are still developed almost exclusively by a single research institute in the world (USGS-USA). Thus, it is high time to improve this situation in order to maximize the scientific output of planetary missions and improve the position of Europe in this context.
Within this framework, it is undeniable that Europe has a prominent position in planetary exploration having sent missions to Moon, Mars, Venus, Titan, and even comet 67P, and leading or being involved in exploration of many other planetary bodies in the years to come (Mercury, Mars, Jovian satellites, Moon, asteroids etc.). Furthermore, human exploration of the Moon, Mars, and asteroids is one of ESA’s mid- to long-term objectives. Scheduled and future European space missions to Solar System bodies need adequate geological support to ensure successful observational strategies for orbital probes and effective landing site selection for robotic and human missions. However, despite Europe's long tradition of geological mapping of Earth and the numerous ESA missions dedicated to the study of planetary surfaces, no European institution has been able to realize an efficient program of planetary geological mapping so far.
Thus, to ensure European excellence in space science it is necessary to develop an efficient European network for geological planetary mapping which, exploiting the available datasets, can provide new products complementary to the existing ones, starting with the three main bodies of interest for Europe in the next decade: Mars, Mercury, and the Moon. At present, the methodological approach for geological mapping of planetary surfaces is mainly based on techniques developed in the 1970s which guarantees valuable products but leaves wide room for improvement considering the diversity, complexity and large amount of data collected by modern instrumentation and new sensors. PLANMAP's major focus is the integration of different datasets through data-fusion aiming at the production of highly informative geological maps. These maps include spectral information, elemental composition, absolute ages and ground truth information. They also provide the basis for subsurface 3D geological modelling and have been disseminated using dedicated WebGIS software.
PLANMAP has improved the European excellence in planetary science by:
- Preparing toolboxes and defining pipelines for innovative geological maps supporting ESA's next generation of planetary missions and future robotic and human exploration.
- Providing geological maps at different scales aiming at supporting observational strategies and target selection for orbital probes and future robotic and human exploration.
- Preparing virtual planetary reconstructions to be integrated with planetary analogues to be used for future astronaut training.
- Producing the first subsurface geo-models on planetary environments
- Giving free access to toolboxes, geological maps and virtual environments to all planetary scientists.
- Delivering cutting edge science by detailed geological analysis of integrated datasets.
PLANMAP produced geologic maps with the widest possible range of underlying data sources, including imagery, topography, hyperspectral, and geophysical data, as well as direct or indirect three- dimensional information. Surface and subsurface geologic models of planetary surfaces at local and regional scales, both from orbital and lander/rover platforms were also provided. On one hand we have produced standard systematic geologic mapping products following a "classical" mapping approach based on geomorphological mapping. On the other hand, specialized local or regional mapping efforts, based on a combination of photogeology, stratigraphy, and crater-size frequency age dating, coupled with compositional data from multi- and hyper-spectral mapping experiments has been used for non-standard maps.
The finished geologic maps, both as individual products and finer-grained map components (i.e. map units) as well as base-maps, summary products and spectral index maps have been made freely available via the PLANMAP data portal. In the same portal are accessible all the produced 3D geomodels and Vritual Reality reconstructions. All the procedures developed for data retrieval, processing workflows, codes, useful documentation for mappers were delivered on PLANMAP GitHub organisation.
The dissemination was guaranteed by numerous presentations in national and international conferences as well as space agency meetings, scientific publications, a couple of workshops and an extremely successful virtual winter school held at the end of the project to show the upfront tools and work-flows set up within the PLANMAP framework. Communication was successfully achieved through active social media, public talks, webinars and seminars, story maps, news paper and magazine articles for the general public, virtual environment experiences, art-works and articles that were integrated in a freely available special issue of a didactic journal for primary schools.

PLANMAP data can be accessed from several points of access:

Data access:
Map portal:

Documentation and code is available from:


Dedicated map-based storytelling maps are available on:
Training material from the Winter school is accessible on:
From the Apollo era onwards, planetary ‘geologic’ mapping has been carried out using a photo-interpretative approach on black and white images. This has limited the definition of geological units to morphological considerations. On the other hand, geological units on Earth are defined by several parameters besides the morphological ones, the most important being lithology and composition. Hence, traditional maps of planets and geological maps on the Earth are still separated by an important conceptual and effective gap. PLANMAP has partly bridged this gap by integrating spectral and color information into morpho-stratigraphic maps. Besides that the first 3D subsurface geomodels on planetary environment were reconstructed and virtual reality environment used for retrieving geological measurements with dedicated tools.
By producing innovative geological maps, geo-models and planetary virtual reality environments PLANMAP has contemporaneously achieved all the initial aims of the project, set up an initial network of European institutions and universities dedicated to geological mapping, and fostered the production of geological maps and derived products by training the younger generation of planetary scientists. In other words PLANMAP sowed the seeds for the future of planetary geological mapping in Europe with a foreseeable impact on future planetary mission strategies and Solar System exploration.