Selenography, the study of surface and physical features of the Moon, is a field where science meets art. From careful engravings and sketches of early observations to lunar photography, it is all gorgeous. So settle in, and enjoy some lunar eye-candy.

1610, Galileo Galilei

In 1610, Galileo Galilei published this engraving of the moon in Sidereus Nuncius (translated as Starry Messenger). The sketches are recognizable maps of the heavenly world: the dark Mare Imbrium (Sea of Rains) has a ring of mountains to the east, while the large crater at the bottom is correctly located (if oversized) to be Albategnius.


This first popularly-recognized sketch changed how we saw the moon, from an unchanging heavenly body to a new world. His publication launched the field of selenography, the study of surface and physical features of the Moon. The Linda Hall Library in Kansas City, Missouri, tracks this history with a collection of engravings and maps in their exhibit The Face of the Moon. The exhibit collects everything from 17th century engravings, turn-of-the-century photographic atlases, Lunar Orbiter and Ranger photographs, US Geological Survey charts, to the Apollo images. It's been open since 1989, the 20th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, but now you can browse the maps online.

1665, Robert Hooke

In 1665, Robert Hooke observed the moon shortly before the first quarter, when high-contrast shadows allowed him to carefully observe the actual shapes of craters. Hooke observed that the crater floor of Hipparchus reflects less light, so suggested that it might be a "fruitful place" with vegetation.


1791, Johann Hieronymus Schröter

Johann Hieronymus Schröter first observed the most famous rill — a fissure or narrow channel on the moon's surface. Located just northwest of the Aristarchus crater, the rill was later upgraded to a valley, and named in his honour.

The discovery is one of those debatable concepts; both the Straight Wall and Schröter's Valley were originally sketched by Christian Huygens a century earlier, but they weren't published until 1925.

1856, Johann Friedrich Julius Schmidt

Johann Friedrich Julius Schmidt's sunset over Clavius, Maginus, and Tycho craters is amazingly psychedelic for a scientific map.

1971, United States Geological Survey

The U.S. Geological Survey created maps for the proposed Apollo landing sites. This one was drafted by M.H. Carr, K.A. Howard, and Farouk El-Baz. This is the Apennines, a proposed landing site for Apollo 15 — the fourth trip manned mission to the moon.

Image credits: Linda Hall Library exhibit, The Face of the Moon. Check out how we originally made map mosaics from orbiter photography, a collection of terrestrial maps, or this unorthodox presentation of a harbour map in a maritime museum. Thank you to Jason G. Goldman on Animals for the tip!